WASHINGTON (CNN) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House on Tuesday, as the allies remain at odds over Israel's plan to build new housing on disputed land in East Jerusalem.
The leaders will meet two weeks after Israel announced the planned construction of 1,600 apartments in a disputed area claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians. That announcement came during U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel and has strained ties between Netanyahu's government and the Obama administration, which is pushing for new talks to end the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"Our goal in any of this is to create an atmosphere of trust and open dialogue, to bring these two sides together so that the discussions can be substantive in moving towards comprehensive Middle Eastern peace," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said at a Monday briefing. "I think the president is hopeful that we will in this meeting make progress and ... get these two parties back to, not just back physically to talks, but to the type of relationship that is necessary for those talks to bear fruit."
On Monday, Netanyahu sharply defended his government's plan for new housing in East Jerusalem.
In a defiant speech to the leading pro-Israel lobby in the United States on Monday night, Netanyahu said Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem are "an integral and inextricable part of modern Jerusalem."
"The connection between the Jewish people and Jerusalem cannot be denied," Netanyahu said to prolonged applause at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). "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."
Netanyahu said his government's policies are in line with those of previous Israeli administrations, and that nearly half of Jerusalem's Jewish population now lives in East Jerusalem, which Israel has occupied since 1967.
"Everyone - Americans, Europeans, Israelis, certainly Palestinians - everyone knows that these neighborhoods will be part of Israel in any peace settlement," Netanyahu said. "Therefore, building them in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution."
Palestinian leaders have refused to rejoin peace talks until Israel freezes the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Netanyahu said his government has lifted roadblocks and checkpoints in the West Bank and temporarily halted new construction, and he called on the Palestinians to come back to the negotiating table "without delay."
The prime minister met Monday with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has called the Israel announcement "insulting." In her own speech to AIPAC, she said the U.S. commitment to Israel's security was "rock-solid" - but added that as "Israel's friend, it is our responsibility to give credit when it is due and to tell the truth when it is needed."
"Our credibility in this process depends in part on our willingness to praise both sides when they are courageous, and when we don't agree, to say so, and say so unequivocally," Clinton said. "We objected to this announcement because we are committed to Israel and its security, which we believe depends on a comprehensive peace - because we are determined to keep moving forward along a path that ensures Israel's future as a secure and democratic Jewish state living in peace with its Palestinian and Arab neighbors."
The United States is Israel's leading ally and provides nearly $3 billion a year in aid to the Jewish state, about three-quarters of which goes to purchase U.S. military equipment. AIPAC has called on the Obama administration to step back from its "public demands and unilateral deadlines directed at Israel," but Clinton defended the administration's call for Israel to stop building in largely Arab East Jerusalem.
Netanyahu met with Clinton for close to two hours Monday afternoon, a senior State Department official and an Israeli official said. Most of the session was one-on-one between Clinton and Netanyahu, though Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak joined the talks at the end, the officials said.
Netanyahu had dinner with Biden on Monday evening before addressing the lobby group.
Clinton focused much of her speech to AIPAC on the threat presented by Iran, telling her audience that "Elements in Iran's government have become a menace, both to their own people and in the region.
"The United States is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons," she said. "Our aim is not incremental sanctions, but sanctions that will bite. It is taking time to produce these sanctions, and we believe that time is a worthwhile investment for winning the broadest possible support for our efforts."
Netanyahu reiterated his government's stance regarding Iran, which has refused international demands to halt its production of nuclear fuel. He called the possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon a threat not only to Israel, but "a grave threat to the region and to the world."
He received another prolonged ovation when he declared that Israel - which is widely believed to have its own nuclear arsenal - "must always reserve the right to defend itself."
– CNN's Alison Harding contributed to this report.
Netanyahu should be there defending Israel from atttacks like this. Thre is no reason why Jerusalem should be on the table. It has never bee a "Palestinian" capital. History is a good reason why; up until the modern state of Israel (it had existed in the past under Roman rule as Judea), the only people called Palestinians were the Jews living in the land we call Israel. It has changed control so many times. I can't figure why the Palestinians want it as a capital other than the prestigues of the name - Jerusalem, a city of Peace. They'll never bring peace there until they accept their situation and the fact that Jews can be in charge.
Israel is guilty of massive war crimes. It is shameful for the President of the United States to meet with the leader of this apartheid state rather than have him arrested and brought to justice.
Where are all the right-wing moonbats speaking out against a terrorist (Netanyahu) coming to the White House?
Israel is a terrorist state.
Why does Israel keep doing this??? They always seem to want to TEST American leaders!! They – Israel – need to STOP building and should be held in contempt if they don't – Case and POINT!!!
This president is a real piece of work. He refused to comment on the protests of the people in Iran against a rigged election, because he didn't want to interfere in another country's business. Now he DEMANDS that Isreal do his bidding? Isreal is an INdependent Nation and should in no uncertain terms tell Obama to get out of their business.
If any other country did what Netanyahu's administration is doing in East Jerusalem, people would have no trouble referring to these actions as ethnic cleansing.
I am ALL FOR Israel living in peace, and "to blazes" with people like the Iranian premier calling for its destruction, but the Israeli government's action on settlements is plain stupid (I guess I might now see 10,000 angry emails from the AIPAC).
And I quote " The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3000 years ago, and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement, it is our capital" end of quote. That quote came from Mr. Natanyahu. Where were the Jews before the Nazi regime decided to exterminate them?. They were in Germany, in Europe in general. Thery weren't in Jerusalem, building Jerusalem. They were in Europe living the good life before the war, and they probably did care less about Israel as their promise land, or Jerusalem as their capital. Who's bible he referring to?. When it come to Israel the Jews will follow the King James Bible for their arguments, and its not even their bible. We were told this country was based on the Bible. Israel is based on hypocrisy..
I think Benjamin needs a kick in his a$$ets.
Maybe after a full blown debacle by Clinton and Obama, the Jews in America will wake up and stop supporting these clowns. The Republicans have always been the ones who have stood firm for Israel.
As much as I support Obama, if he fails to call and correct the grave injustice and exploitation of the Palestinian People by Israel, he will be declaring himself alligned with the flagrantly hypocritical decades-old policy of the USA in the Middle-East. Apart from being patently evil, it is the single greatest explanation for all the terrorism that is emanating from there. This will make him a dishonest person along with Hilary Clinton and George Bush and all his predecessors, except perhaps Carter.