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Netanyahu Ends US Visit Without Resolving Settlement Dispute

  • Robert Berger

Israel's leader is returning home from the United States after failing to resolve a dispute over Jewish settlement expansion.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ended a visit to Washington amid a continuing rift over Israeli construction in disputed East Jerusalem. U.S. President Barack Obama failed to persuade Mr. Netanyahu to halt building projects in East Jerusalem, which the United States sees as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

In a speech in Washington, Mr. Netanyahu said Jerusalem is not a settlement, and Jews can build anywhere in the city. Here in Israel, the right-wing government is backing the prime minister.

Cabinet Minister Limor Livnat of the ruling Likud Party says U.S. demands are unreasonable.

Livnat told Israel Radio that Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel and the Jewish people. She said Jews have prayed toward Jerusalem for thousands of years, so the prime minister cannot stop building there.

The United States and Palestinians see the settlements as an obstacle to peace, and Israeli newspapers speak of a full-blown crisis in U.S.-Israel relations.

A former Israeli diplomat in Washington, Yoram Ettinger, says Jerusalem has always been a red line.

"The challenge of Prime Minister Netanyahu is to prove to President Obama that not only is he, Netanyahu, not susceptible to pressure, but that Israel is not a banana republic which accepts policy dictated by Washington," Ettinger said.

Mr. Netanyahu hopes to appease the United States with a series of goodwill gestures to the Palestinians aimed at goading them back to peace talks after a 14-month stalemate. But the Palestinians say until Israel halts settlement expansion in East Jerusalem, there is nothing to talk about.