Netanyahu rebuffs Clinton’s demands
WASHINGTON – Two weeks after Israel’s announcement of construction in East Jerusalem threatened the worst confrontation with the U.S. in 20 years, the two sides have agreed to disagree – in effect handing a political and diplomatic victory to right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu, who was showered with expressions of support Tuesday in a visit to Capitol Hill, has successfully refused White House demands – relayed directly by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton – that Israel halt construction in the eastern sector of the holy city, also claimed by the Palestinians.
“We understand that … there are different perspectives among the parties. We agree with some, we don’t agree with others,” said Clinton spokesman P.J. Crowley.
His statement suggested that the Obama administration has failed to move Netanyahu off Israel’s long-standing position on Jerusalem.
It was just 11 days ago that Clinton had denounced Israel’s decision to build 1,600 new apartments in East Jerusalem with rare harshness. She told Netanyahu that it was a “deeply negative signal” about relations with the U.S. and undermined U.S. attempts to re-launch Middle East peace talks.
Obama and Netanyahu met early Tuesday evening for nearly 90 minutes behind closed doors at the White House, with no joint public appearance planned.
It was an unusual protocol for a visiting Israeli leader, and it’s not clear the two men will be able to work together in the coming months.
Whether Obama’s tactics in the current crisis prove fruitful, or another false start after 14 months of trying to get Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate, remains to be seen.
A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the subject’s sensitivity, acknowledged that the Obama administration “set a high bar” in its negotiations with Israel. “The Israelis have moved, but not far enough.”
The next U.S. step, he said, will be to “make a credible presentation to the Palestinians that this is not everything you wanted, (but) it’s a lot.”