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Netanyahu hopeful of compromise at end of talks in US

A Palestinian woman passes a site in East Jerusalem designated for new Israeli homes, 24 March
The former Hotel Shepherd in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah quarter is designated for new Israeli building

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says progress has been made on the row over Jerusalem settlements after talks in Washington.

He boarded his plane back to Israel talking of a "golden way" to revive Mid-East peace talks.

But Israeli President Shimon Peres said Mr Netanyahu "apparently... did not reach an understanding with the US".

Silence from US officials on last-minute talks has been widely seen as a sign that major differences remain.

The row over Israel's plans for homes in occupied East Jerusalem has caused one of the worst crises in US-Israeli ties for decades.

Shimon Peres: "We didn't reach an understanding with the United States"

Mr Netanyahu met President Barack Obama on Tuesday and held further talks on Wednesday with US Middle East envoy George Mitchell.

The White House has been trying 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 the scheduled talks two weeks ago, after 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 initially branded an insult.

Extended visit

Scant information on the content of Mr Netanyahu's negotiations has emerged and rarely has so little been said about such high-level meetings, lasting so long, between the US and one of its closest allies, says the BBC's Richard Lister in the US capital.

ANALYSIS
Paul Wood in Jerusalem
Paul Wood, BBC News, Jerusalem

As he left the US, Mr Netanyahu spoke of finding the "golden path" between Israel's security needs and US demands. He said there had been progress. The Israeli newspapers today, by contrast, said he had been treated like the "prime minister of Equatorial Guinea", his visit to the Oval Office an "ongoing humiliation".

It is indeed hard to see what progress there has been. Israel's relations with the US have fallen to one of their lowest points ever. There was no official word from the meeting with Mr Obama - itself an unusual and significant indicator of just how bad things have become between Israel and the US.

Informed speculation suggests that the Americans are pushing for extension of the so-called (because partial) settlement freeze in the West Bank and a genuine freeze in new construction in East Jerusalem. But the Israeli interior minister, a member of the right-wing religious party Shas, has already declared that he will be "proud" to authorise thousands of new housing units.

Mr Netanyahu must now choose between a widening breach with his most vital ally, the US, or a serious row with his coalition partners, perhaps even the fall of his government.

"We're finding, I think, the golden path between our traditional policy - and that of all the previous governments - and our will to find a way to renew the peace process," said Mr Netanyahu as he left Washington.

"I think today was a day that we moved forward."

Israeli sources quoted by Reuters news agency said Mr Netanyahu could not finalise any confidence-building measures until he presented them to his cabinet.

US officials speaking on condition of anonymity to the Associated Press news agency said the talks had not ended tensions over Israel's construction in East Jerusalem.

Mr Netanyahu had extended his stay by hours to work on a deal but the talks with Mr Mitchell ended at about 2000 (0100 GMT) on Wednesday without any announcements, one of the officials said.

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

Earlier on Wednesday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that President Obama had held "honest" talks with Mr Netanyahu, urging him to take steps to build confidence in the peace process.

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

TIMELINE: ISRAEL-US ROW
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: Mr Netanyahu ends Washington trip talking of a "golden" solution amid US silence

Minutes before Mr Netanyahu's visit to the White House on Tuesday, it emerged the Jerusalem municipal government had approved another development.

Twenty apartments are to be built by a Jewish American property developer 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.

"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.

He reiterated the American 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.

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.

POINTS OF TENSION IN JERUSALEM
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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