Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has held talks with US President Barack Obama – their first meeting since a row over plans to build homes in East Jerusalem.

They held two meetings at the White House, but neither leader addressed the media afterwards.

Mr Netanyahu had warned earlier that Middle East peace talks could be further delayed by Palestinian demands for a freeze on settlement building.

The Palestinians said Mr Netanyahu’s policy was stalling the peace process.

‘No concessions’

A White House official told the BBC that Mr Netanyahu and Mr Obama had first met for about 90 minutes.

He added that the US president later went to his residence, but Mr Netanyahu requested another meeting and the two leaders spend another 30 minutes together.

The talks were held behind closed doors, and no details have been given.

It was a pointed contrast with the traditional public welcome for Israeli leaders at the White House, the BBC’s Steve Kingstone in Washington reports.

Our correspondent says that for the Americans it reflects an uncomfortable fact: that in the wake of a full-scale diplomatic row Mr Netanyahu came to Washington offering no obvious concessions.

At an earlier meeting with US congressional leaders, Mr Netanyahu described the Palestinian demands on a construction freeze as “illogical and unreasonable”.

“It could put the peace negotiations on hold for another year,” he said.

Last week Mr Obama said the approval of plans for 1,600 homes in Ramat Shlomo was not helpful to the peace process. But on Monday, Mr Netanyahu reasserted Israel’s “right to build” in Jerusalem.

Nearly 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They are considered illegal under international law, which Israel disputes.

The Palestinian Authority is furious at Israel’s insistence on building on occupied territory. It sees it as a serious stumbling block to the resumption of talks, which have been stalled for more than a year.

“Netanyahu’s policy is the one that is obstructing the return to negotiations,” Nabil Abu Rdainah, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told Reuters news agency in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Clinton critical

Mr Obama has largely refrained from commenting publicly on the announcement of new construction in East Jerusalem, which came while Vice-President Joe Biden was visiting Israel two weeks ago.

Instead, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, along with Mr Biden and several top aides, has repeatedly criticised the Israeli government for jeopardising the indirect “proximity talks” being mediated by US special envoy George Mitchell.

In a speech to an influential pro-Israeli lobby group on Monday, Mrs Clinton demanded that Israel move to restore confidence in the peace process, not least by extending the 10-month suspension of new building in the West Bank to include East Jerusalem.

She told American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) members that the continued expansion of Jewish settlements undermined “mutual trust and endangers the proximity talks that are the first step toward the full negotiations that both sides want and need”.

“It exposes daylight between Israel and the United States that others in the region hope to exploit,” she added.

In his speech to Aipac on the same day, Mr Netanyahu said: “The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today.

“Jerusalem is not a settlement. It’s our capital.”

Source: BBC


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