Obama and Netanyahu Differ in Talks

Israel’s prime minister has refused to commit to an independent Palestinian state during talks with Barack Obama, the US president, at the White House.

Binyamin Netanyahu told Obama that he wanted the Palestinians to govern themselves, but steered clearly of explicitly endorsing the two-state solution set out in the so-called "road map".

He said that Israel was "ready" to resume negotiations with the Palestinians, which stalled during the 22-day offensive in the Gaza Strip, but he attached conditions to any new process.

"If we resume negotiations then I think the Palestinians will have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and also enable Israel to have the means to defend itself," he said.

"If those conditions are met, I think we can envision an arrangement where Palestinians and Israelis live side-by-side."

‘Historic Opportunity’

Obama urged Netanyahu to capitalize on what he called "an historic opportunity" to restart serious negotiations with the Palestinians, but also reiterated his commitment to Palestinian statehood.

"It is of interest not only to the Palestinians but also to the Israelis and the international community to achieve a two-state solution in which Israelis and Palestinians are living side-by-side in peace and security," he said.

Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland, reporting from Jerusalem, said the issue of a Palestinian state would remain a sensitive one.

"Obviously the question of the two-state solution and any overt commitment from Netanyahu is very sensitive because this is something that the Obama administration has been very keen to press."

Netanyahu and Obama also discussed the issue of Iran’s controversial nuclear programme during their talks.

Israel is thought to be uneasy over Obama’s talk of diplomatic engagement with Tehran and has refused to rule out military strikes if it fails.

Israel and Western nations remain concerned that Tehran’s uranium enrichment programme is geared towards the building of a nuclear warhead, but Tehran says it is aimed at meeting civilian energy needs.

The meeting in Washington DC came amid reports that Israel is moving ahead with construction on a new Jewish settlement in the West Bank, despite US calls for Israel to halt settlement activity.

Israeli Settlements

Israeli authorities have issued tenders for housing units in the Maskiot settlement and contractors have arrived on site.
David Elhaiini, a local Israeli government official, said the timing of the construction was not intended to make a political point as it was initially approved in 2008 by Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Al Jazeera’s Nour Odeh, reporting from Ramallah, said the settlement will be in the northern Jordan valley on the east side of the occupied West Bank.

"This is the first time in nearly 30 years that Israel announces the construction of an entirely new settlement," she said.

"Usually what we see are caravans that become outposts that later translate into an expansion of an already existing settlement.

"This announcement has outraged Palestinians and Israeli peace activists alike who are now saying this proves that Binyamin Netanyahu is not committed to the two-state solution.

"The Palestinians officially have made very similar statements, saying this is actually a very defiant move that should be confronted by the Americans."
(Aljazeera.net English and Agencies)

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