Page last updated at 22:31 GMT, Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Differences remain between Israel and US - White House

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the talks had been straightforward

Differences remain between Israel and the US, following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Washington, the White House has said.

President Obama urged the Israeli PM to take steps to build confidence in the peace process, during "honest" talks on Tuesday, spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

Mr Gibbs added that the US was seeking "clarification" of the latest plans to build homes in occupied East Jerusalem.

Mr Netanyahu's trip came amid the worst crisis in US-Israeli ties for decades.

The Israeli leader delayed his departure from Washington on Wednesday to meet the US Middle East peace envoy, George Mitchell, at his hotel.

Jeremy Bowen
Jeremy Bowen, BBC Middle East editor, Washington

All day, Israeli and US diplomats have been shuttling back and forth across Washington. The Americans want assurances from Mr Netanyahu that they can take to the Palestinians to get them to agree to talks. It has been a difficult process.

Before Mr Netanyahu met President Obama at the White House on Tuesday night, the message from the Israeli side was that they had made up with the Americans, and that they now understood their position on Jerusalem. But as they were meeting news broke about another housing development for Jewish settlers in occupied East Jerusalem. Afterwards, the White House signalled the crisis was not over, announcing that no photograph or video of the meeting would be released, which is a calculated snub.

Even if the Americans do manage to get indirect talks going, the chances that they will make progress are slight. Both sides are politically weak - and their positions are a long way apart. To make matters worse, the entire region is more than usually unstable this year.

Mr Mitchell returned to the US on Tuesday following a meeting in the West Bank with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The White House was reportedly seeking to persuade Mr Netanyahu to commit to several trust-building measures to revive hopes for indirect "proximity talks" between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Palestinians pulled out of moves towards talks, just after they had been announced two weeks ago, when Israel unveiled plans to build 1,600 homes in the East Jerusalem settlement of Ramat Shlomo.

The project was approved during a visit by US Vice-President Joe Biden - a move which Washington branded an insult.

Then, minutes before Mr Netanyahu's fence-mending visit to the White House on Tuesday, it emerged the Jerusalem municipal government had approved another development.

Twenty apartments are to be built for Jewish settlers on the site of an old hotel in the predominantly Arab neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

Mr Gibbs told reporters on Wednesday there were areas of agreement and disagreement between the sides, following the two meetings in Washington, one of which was unscheduled.

He described the three-and-a-half hours of talks as an "honest and straightforward discussion that continues".

"The president has asked the prime minister for certain things to build confidence up to proximity talks that we think can make progress," Mr Gibbs said.

9 Mar: Israel announces the building of 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem during visit by US Vice-President Joe Biden.
Mr Biden condemns the move
11 Mar: Mr Biden says there must be no delay in resuming Mid-East peace talks, despite the row
12 Mar: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the Israeli move is "deeply negative" for relations
15 Mar: The US says it is waiting for a "formal response" from Israel to its proposals to show it is committed to Mid-East peace
16 Mar: The US envoy to the Mid-East postpones a visit to Israel
17 Mar: President Obama denies there is a crisis with Israel
22 Mar: Hillary Clinton tells pro-Israel lobby group Aipac Israel has to make "difficult but necessary choices" if it wants peace with Palestinians.
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu tells Aipac Israel has a "right to build" in Jerusalem
23 Mar: Mr Obama and Mr Netanyahu meet behind closed doors with no media access
23 Mar: Jerusalem municipal government approves building of 20 new homes in East Jerusalem
24 Mar: The White House says differences remain

He reiterated the US position that there was an "unbreakable bond" between the US and the Israeli people.

The Israelis said there had been a "good atmosphere" during Tuesday's talks.

But the BBC's Kim Ghattas in Washington notes Mr Netanyahu did not get the reception usually reserved for America's allies.

There was no press conference, no lavish welcome, and the White House did not even release a picture of the meeting.

It all signals that the US is playing tough, making clear it is upset with the Israeli government, says our correspondent.

"I think it comes as a great shock to you and me, but not everything the president does is for the cameras and for the press," Mr Gibbs told reporters.

The White House also demanded on Wednesday further "clarification" about the development in Sheikh Jarrah from Mr Netanyahu, who was said to have been caught off guard by the announcement the previous day.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem for their future capital, but Israel insists the city cannot be divided.

Nearly half a million Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

They are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

Map of Jerusalem
1 Gilo: 850 homes approved for publication and planning objections in Nov 2009
2 Pisgat Zeev: 600 homes approved for publication and planning objections in Jan 2010
3 Sheikh Jarrah: Municipality approves the building of 20 new apartments on the site of an old hotel
4 Ramat Shlomo: 1,600 homes approved for publication and planning objections in Mar 2010
5 Silwan: Demolition orders on 88 Palestinian homes built without difficult-to-get permits - Israel planning controversial renewal project
6. West Bank barrier: Making Palestinian movement between West Bank and Jerusalem harder - Israel says it's for security

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