US President Barack Obama quit a recent meeting with Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu to have dinner in private after the latter failed to hand a written promise of concessions on Jewish settlements, reports say.
The Tuesday meeting was held amid an alleged dispute between the two allies over Tel Aviv’s recent announcement that it would build a 1,600-unit settlement in the occupied East Jerusalem (al-Quds), Times Online reported on Thursday.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the announcement — which came during a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden, aimed at promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations — a "deeply negative signal."
The Israeli side was apparently expected to agree to halt its construction plans and settlement expansion ambitions in the occupied Palestinian territories, and extend a 10-month settlement freeze during the meeting.
Netanyahu, however, "thought he had resolved the crisis by apologizing to Biden… and by offering partial, noncommittal answers to the Americans’ questions," wrote Israeli daily Ha’aretz.
Before leaving Netanyahu for dinner, Obama gave the Israeli premier time to consult with his advisers and change his mind. "Let me know if there is anything new," a US congressman who had spoken to the Israeli prime minister after the incident quoted Obama as saying to Netanyahu.
The Israeli team was consequently permitted to stay in the White House but left for the Israeli Embassy over fears of being eavesdropped on by Tel Aviv’s closest ally.
“The prime minister leaves America disgraced, isolated and altogether weaker than when he came,” Ha’aretz wrote.
However, the reports on the purported confidence deficit in the bilateral ties are distrusted by analysts, who cite Clinton’s recent impassioned pledge of allegiance to Tel Aviv after her condemnation of the Israeli settlement construction.
Addressing the annual conference of the major Israeli pressure group in the US, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the secretary of state reaffirmed Washington’s strong ties with Tel Aviv and said "guaranteeing Israel’s security is more than a policy position for me; it is a personal commitment that will never waver."
Opponents of the theory, however, say that the Obama administration did not press hard on Israel during the AIPAC meeting, to avoid losing support for the healthcare bill among congressmen.