Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a pro-Israel lobby Monday that Jerusalem is Israel's capital and "not a settlement" amid a row with Washington over construction in the area. He also reaffirmed his faith in the "enduring friendship" of the US.
AFP - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reaffirmed Israel's right to build settlements in east Jerusalem ahead of a difficult meeting with US President Barack Obama on Tuesday.
Showing no sign of compromise in a dispute which has harmed relations with the United States, Netanyahu told a pro-Israel lobby group: "The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital."
He was given a standing ovation by the 7,500 delegates at the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual conference, which had earlier heard a warning from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the settlement building.
Netanyahu will meet late Tuesday with Obama -- the first between the two leaders the United States strongly condemned Israel for unveiling new Jerusalem construction as US Vice President Joe Biden visited the region to support peace talks.
Netanyahu told the lobby group, which drew many US lawmakers to its gala dinner, he is confident that Israel will have the "enduring friendship" of the United States.
The prime minister cited remarks made by Biden to illustrate the bilateral relationship's strength, even though the Biden was infuriated by Israel's announcement of the 1,600 new settlements on March 9 while he was in Jerusalem to support peace talks.
The announcement prompted a diplomatic crisis and the speeches by Netanyahu and Clinton at the AIPAC meeting were closely watched for signs of an end to the dispute.
Clinton told AIPAC that Washington had to condemn the new homes in east Jerusalem as well as settlements in the West Bank in order to preserve trust and ensure Israeli-Palestinian talks go ahead as agreed.
She said new construction "undermines" Washington's role as a credible mediator that is ready to both praise and condemn actions on both sides.
The secretary of state also urged Netanyahu to ease the humanitarian crisis in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, which is under an Israeli blockade.
Clinton told delegates, worried about the rift between the allies, that US support for Israel's security is "rock solid, unwavering, enduring and forever."
In a private meeting Monday, Netanyahu and Clinton discussed possible actions to "improve the atmosphere" for stalled US-mediated talks, State Deparment spokesman Philip Crowley said.
In a statement, he said the pair met for more than an hour, joined at one point by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
"Our focus remains creating an atmosphere of trust so that the parties can begin to address core issues through proximity talks and move to direct negotiations as soon as possible," Crowley said.
"We continue to make progress towards that end," he added.
The core issues are security for Israel, the status of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees, and the boundaries of a future Palestinian state.
On Iran, Clinton and Netanyahu expressed similar concerns, although Israel sees the matter as more urgent than the United States.
Clinton said Obama's administration will take the time to develop biting sanctions against Israel's archfoe Iran but will not "compromise its commitment" to prevent Tehran from acquiring a nuclear bomb.
US bids to push through a fourth set of sanctions have run into opposition from China, a veto-wielding permanent member of the UN Security Council with growing trade ties with Iran.
AIPAC panelists warned that the row over settler homes might distract from efforts to curb Iran's uranium enrichment program, which the United States and Israel fear masks a bid to build an atomic bomb.
Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful nuclear energy.
Israel has threatened pre-emptive military strikes against Iran.
Netanyahu said Israel expects "the international community to act swiftly and to act decisively to thwart this (nuclear) danger, but we will always reserve the right of self-defense."
Date created : 2010-03-23