Israel 'spat in Obama's eye' with plan for settler homes
Published 25/03/2010 | 05:00
Israel was accused of "spitting in Obama's eye" after it announced plans to build 100 more settler homes in east Jerusalem shortly after its prime minister met the president at the White House.
Officials had approved the Jewish housing project in one of Jerusalem's most volatile Palestinian suburbs hours before Benjamin Netanyahu met Barack Obama for emergency talks. US officials had hoped the meeting could defuse tensions.
The two countries have been at loggerheads since Israel announced plans for 1,600 new homes in east Jerusalem's Ramat Shlomo settlement during a visit earlier this month by Joe Biden, the US vice president. But in the days leading up to the White House meeting, Mr Netanyahu rejected US demands to reverse the expansion of Ramat Shlomo and halt all building in east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day war. It can only have infuriated Mr Obama that Israel then approved a new project, the suspension of which the US had demanded last July.
The meeting was the most icy between an American president and an Israeli premier in recent years. Mr Netanyahu was treated to a series of diplomatic slights.
There were no photographs before or afterwards and no questions from reporters.
The "honest and straightforward discussion" ended with areas of "disagreement", according to the White House spokesman, who added that US officials were seeking "clarification" of Israel's housing plan.
An Israeli spokesman sought to put a brave face on the encounter, saying: "The atmosphere was good."
The meeting itself was in two parts: an 89-minute session followed by a further 35 minutes at Mr Netanyahu's request.
The timings suggested that Mr Obama had delivered some ultimatum or asked a question to which Mr Netanyahu was required to give a substantive response.
For his part, Israel's prime minister appeared to be trying to drive a wedge between Congress and the White House.
He made an uncompromising speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, declaring that Jerusalem was not a settlement.
In Israel, Mr Netanyahu faced anger from left-wingers in his ruling coalition. "Netanyahu decided to spit into Obama's eye, this time from up close," said Eitan Cabel, of the Labour Party. "He and his pyromaniac ministers insist on setting the Middle East ablaze."
The decision to build up to 100 homes in the Sheikh Jarrah suburb is far more incendiary.
Unlike Ramat Shlomo, a Jewish settlement built in the 1980s, Sheikh Jarrah is Palestinian and most Israeli leaders have balked at building there. (© Daily Telegraph, London)