Ehud Barak, Hillary Clinton Sept. 15, 2010 AP
Ehud Barak welcoming Hillary Clinton to Jerusalem on September 15, 2010. Photo by AP
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The Palestinian flag was hoisted at the side of the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem on Wednesday for a photograph of Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas. This was customary in former prime minister Ehud Olmert's days, but many of those in the prime minister's bureau who were preparing for the meeting had objected to raising the Palestinian flag. After much deliberation, it was finally decided to follow the previous government's precedent.

When Olmert was prime minister, Netanyahu and his associates had blasted the decision to put up the Palestinian flag in the prime minister's residence.

When Netanyahu's aides realized the flag issue was raising avid media interest, they decided, in the course of the premier's meeting with Abbas, to issue a semi-defensive, semi-apologetic "clarification." The statement's message was that they may have agreed to the flag, but not to concessions.

"Prime Minister Netanyahu is hosting Abu-Mazen [Abbas] in his home amicably and generously, including putting up the Palestinian flag, but in the talks themselves he is firmly insisting on Israel's defense needs," the statement to reporters said.

Netanyahu took great pains to demonstrate warmth and friendship toward Abbas, who had agreed to hold the meeting in the Israeli premier's residence, despite the criticism at home. The friendly gestures, however, failed to bridge the deep disagreements regarding the future of the construction freeze in the West Bank settlements and the abyss on the core issues.

Netanyahu received Abbas at the door, shook his hand cordially and ushered him in. "I'm glad you came to my house," he said.

Abbas replied humorously, "Indeed, we haven't met in a long time." Then Abbas wrote in the guest book: "Today I returned to this house after a long absence, to continue the talks and negotiations, hoping to reach an eternal peace in the entire region and especially peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples."

Netanyahu and Abbas continued with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the patio, where dozens of reporters and photographers were waiting. His eyes shining with happiness, Netanyahu greeted Abbas while the cameras flashed, immortalizing the two leaders shaking hands against the backdrop of the Palestinian flag.