Israel, U.S. Have Not Settled Spat Over Jerusalem Housing Construction
Benjamin Netanyahu said the sides are still trying to find a solution but defended his government's contentious construction that has been at the heart of the spat, saying it's a long-standing Israeli policy.
"There are things we agree on, things we don't agree on, things we are closing the gap on. We are making an effort," Netanyahu said of the talks with the U.S. He spoke at a news conference called to trumpet the accomplishments of his first year in office.
The U.S. has been pressuring Israel to halt construction in east Jerusalem, the section of the holy city claimed by the Palestinians. Israel considers all of Jerusalem to be its eternal capital.
The dispute erupted into a crisis last month when Israel announced plans to build 1,600 new homes for Jews in east Jerusalem during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden. The announcement infuriated the Americans, who demanded the project be canceled, and derailed a plan to restart peace talks.
Netanyahu accused the media of blowing the disagreement out of proportion.
"What is being published doesn't fit what we are talking about," he said. "Apparently the discussion between us is more serious and more to the point than what is generally believed."
Despite months of U.S. diplomacy, the Palestinians have refused to restart negotiations until Israel halts all construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem -- areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war that Palestinians want for their future state.
Netanyahu, who leads the hard-line Likud Party, took office in March 2009 on pledges he would take a different approach to peacemaking than his more dovish predecessor, Ehud Olmert.
The peace talks broke down in the waning days of Olmert's term, after Israel launched a military offensive to halt rocket fire coming from the Gaza Strip.
Palestinians remain wary of Netanyahu, who got dozens of military checkpoints and roadblocks in the West Bank removed to help revive the Palestinian economy. He also endorsed the concept of Palestinian independence last year, albeit with conditions that the Palestinians say are unacceptable.