Peace talks could be delayed for a year, warns Israel

Drop 'illogical' demands or we walk away, Netanyahu tells Palestinian leadership

An unyielding Benjamin Netanyahu held a 90-minute meeting with Barack Obama at the White House last night as the US intensified pressure on the Israeli Prime Minister to rein in settlements in disputed East Jerusalem. But, in talks earlier in the day with Congressional leaders on Capitol Hill, Mr Netanyahu warned that peace negotiations could be delayed another year unless the Palestinians dropped their "illogical and unreasonable" demand for a full settlement freeze, according to his spokesman.

Unusually, the White House session was closed to reporters – ostensibly in order not to distract attention from the central event of the day, Mr Obama's signature of the historic healthcare reform bill. But, by not holding a press conference, or even allowing a few journalists into the Oval Office for the customary impromptu questions, the White House has avoided a public airing at the highest level of the continuing disagreement between the two close allies.

Oddly, it was thanks to the healthcare battle on Capitol Hill that the meeting took place at all. Originally the President was to have been in Australia and New Zealand this week. After calling off that trip to help round up the last few needed votes, Mr Obama had little alternative than to fit Mr Netanyahu into his schedule. Not to have done so would have been seen as a deliberate snub that would have escalated the public row – something both sides are trying not to do.

Nonetheless, Mr Netanyahu's address to the Jewish lobby group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), on Monday left no doubt that they are still far apart, for all the mutual assurances of support. After Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, had scolded Israel for not curbing its building programme, the Prime Minister declared that Israel would press ahead regardless.

"The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago, and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement – it's our capital," Mr Netanyahu said, earning a standing ovation that contrasted starkly with the polite near-silence in which Mrs Clinton's strictures were heard.

But, once outside the friendly confines of AIPAC, the pressure on the Prime Minister here has been unrelenting. His meeting with Mr Obama was the first between the two men since Israel announced its plan to build 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem at the very moment Vice-President Joe Biden was in the country, triggering the sharpest disagreement between the two countries in decades.

Since then both sides have tried to ease tensions, with Mrs Clinton proclaiming America's "rock-solid and unwavering" support for the Jewish state. Both have stressed their common determination to prevent Iran gaining nuclear weapons, and Israel says it is ready to restart talks with the Palestinians.

Israeli officials say moreover that, if they go ahead, these "proximity talks", mediated by George Mitchell, the US Middle East envoy, would tackle core issues like borders, the status of Jerusalem, which both sides claim as their capital, and the right of return of Palestinian refugees. The home-building programme in East Jerusalem, Mr Netanyahu insisted to AIPAC, "in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution".

Behind the scenes, separate talks at the State Department will have surely seen further demands by Mrs Clinton for curbs on settlements. Mr Biden was expected to do the same at a dinner with the Prime Minister.

Britain turned the screw on Mr Netanyahu further by choosing this moment to announce it is expelling a diplomat from Israel's London embassy over the cloned British passports used by suspected Mossad agents in the assassination of a senior Hamas leader in Dubai.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Injury Fee Earners

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist personal injury...

Recruitment Genius: New Business Sales Executive / Business Development

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Join a fast growing, UK based I...

Recruitment Genius: Tennant Liaison Officer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An experienced TLO is required to manage, deli...

Guru Careers: Tax Manager / Accountant

£35 - £50k DOE: Guru Careers: A Tax Manager / Accountant (ACA / CA / CTA) is n...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen