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US and Israeli leaders hold talks

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says there is "no time to waste"

President Barack Obama has met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House as the US struggles to revive the Middle East peace process.

The talks in Washington came amid heightened tension over Mr Netanyahu's refusal to freeze settlement building in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

The BBC's Kim Ghattas in Washington says the meeting was unusual.

There were no photos, no press calls, and none of the public warmth Israeli leaders usually get from US presidents.

It was only Mr Netanayahu's second visit to the White House since President Obama took office nine months ago.

Our correspondent says the pair talked for almost two hours, but very little has emerged about what was discussed beyond a bland statement issued by the White House.

FROM BBC WORLD SERVICE

"The president reaffirmed our strong commitment to Israel's security, and discussed security co-operation on a range of issues. The president and prime minister also discussed Iran and how to move forward on Middle East peace," it said.

Our correspondent says the alliance between the two countries is still undoubtedly solid, but the Obama administration is frustrated that its peace efforts in the Middle East are going nowhere, so the president wanted to make sure his meeting with Mr Netanyahu did not appear as support for the Israeli leader's stance.

Settlement activities

Ahead of the White House talks, Mr Netanyahu told a forum of US Jewish leaders in Washington that he was ready for an agreement.

"I say today to [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas... let us seize the moment to reach a historic agreement. Let us begin talks immediately."

He said his goal was a "permanent peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians - and soon".

Mahmoud Abbas in Hebron (8 November 2009)
[Mr Abbas] really doesn't think there is a need to be president or to have a [Palestinian] Authority
Saeb Erekat
Chief Palestinian negotiator

But he added that "no Israeli government has been so willing to restrain settlement activities as part of our efforts to relaunch peace talks".

The Obama administration has made Israeli-Palestinian peace talks the cornerstone of its Middle East policy.

The Palestinians say the suspension of settlement construction in the occupied West Bank is a precondition for a renewal of talks, but Washington has recently dropped its calls for a total halt to settlement activity.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently angered Arab leaders when she praised Mr Netanyahu's offer of a limited easing of settlement building as "unprecedented".

Mr Abbas announced on Thursday that he would not seek re-election in January because of the impasse in peace negotiations.

Palestinian officials have begun warning of the possible collapse of the Palestinian Authority.

The chief Palestinian peace negotiator, Saeb Erekat, told the New York Times on Tuesday that Mr Abbas was "realising that he came all this way with the peace process in order to create a Palestinian state, but he sees no state coming".

"So he really doesn't think there is a need to be president or to have an Authority. This is not about who is going to replace him. This is about our leaving our posts. You think anybody will stay after he leaves?" he asked.

Mr Abbas's announcement has been interpreted by many in the region as a way to pressure the US to push Israel harder.

They believe elections may not take place as scheduled because of the division between Mr Abbas's Fatah faction and the Islamist movement, Hamas, which has said it will prevent a vote in Gaza.



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