Netanyahu to U.S.: Palestinian demands may delay peace talks again
Netanyahu courts U.S. leaders including Clinton after AIPAC speech, declares that Jerusalem is not a settlement.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that he feared peace negotiations with the Palestinians would be deferred for another year unless the Palestinians abandoned their demands for a full Israeli settlement freeze.
Netanyahu told U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during his visit to Washington that Israel would not allow itself to be trapped by Palestinians into unfair demands, particularly with regard to construction in East Jerusalem.
"We must not be trapped by an illogical and unreasonable demand," Netanyahu said during a meeting with Pelosi and other congressional leaders. "It could put the peace negotiations on hold for another year."
In turn, Pelosi declared the Congress' commitment to Israel, but made no mention of settlements. "We in Congress stand by Israel, something [on which] we have a joint bipartisan commitment," she said.
Since his arrival on Monday morning, Netanyahu has been criss-crossing the Washington power grid in a bid to explain Israel's position on plans to construct 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem.
Netanyahu met with Pelosi (D-Calif.) a day after holding talks with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. He plans to meet President Barack Obama later Tuesday at the White House.
The diplomatic effort comes after Netanyahu on Monday told thousands of participants at AIPAC's annual conference that Jerusalem is not a settlement.
The prime minister's meeting with Clinton was an attempt to put an end to the crisis that began when the report broke of plans to build 1,600 new units in Ramat Shlomo in East Jerusalem two weeks ago during the visit to Israel of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.
Before Netanyahu left for Washington he asked Housing Minister Ariel Atias not to participate in the dedication ceremony for a new neighborhood in Pisgat Ze'ev in East Jerusalem. Netanyahu made the request in light of the recent tensions between Israel and the United States over construction in East Jerusalem.
Atias canceled his participation and the festive ceremony, which could have overshadowed Netanyahu's Washington visit.
Netanyahu informed Clinton that the ceremony had been postponed but also said he would not change government policy on construction in East Jerusalem, which has not changed in the 42 years it has been in Israeli hands.
During their meeting, Netanyahu showed her graphs and data regarding planning and construction in Jerusalem to show her the difficulties the government faces in monitoring every phase of planning approval in the capital.
Netanyahu said the planning process was a long one, but every phase could engender an international crisis even though it might not mean construction was imminent.
Netanyahu also spoke Monday before some 300 representatives and senators at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee banquet. He discussed the Iranian nuclear program and the peace process with the Palestinians, but mostly worked to convey a message of common interests and close relations between Israel and the United States.
The prime minister called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to come to the negotiating table and added that the United States could assist in the process but that peace could not be imposed from the outside.
Netanyahu's attempts at fence-mending were prominent, and he praised Obama a number of times for his commitment to Israel's security. He noted that in the past Israel helped the United States to contain the Soviet Union and today Israel was helping the United States curb militant Islam. Netanyahu also addressed voices in the administration that said Israel was endangering American soldiers by its conflict with the Palestinians. He said Israel traded intelligence and cooperated in the war on terror, which saves American lives.
The prime minister told AIPAC that the hatred of radical Islam for the West did not stem from anything Israel was doing, but because it saw Israel as an outpost of Western freedom. When Israel fought its enemies, it was fighting America's enemies, he said.
Netanyahu also said Israel expected the international community to deal decisively with Iran to thwart the danger of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, but that Israel retained the right to self-defense. He said that if Iran obtained nuclear weapons, it would end the period of nuclear peace the world has known for the past 65 years.
Clinton's earlier speech at the AIPAC convention was warmly received and punctuated with stormy applause. Ten days after scolding Netanyahu over building in East Jerusalem, Clinton spoke with feeling about her visits to Israel and vowed that American support for Israel's security remains "rock solid, unwavering, enduring and forever."
Clinton devoted much of her address to the stagnated peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. She said resuming the talks should be serious and substantive, and warned that Israeli building in East Jerusalem and the West Bank were hurting U.S. mediation.