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Israeli PM says Jerusalem policy will not change

A Palestinian woman passes a site in East Jerusalem designated for new Israeli homes, 24 March
Israel insists Jerusalem will remain its undivided capital

The Israeli prime minister says his policy on Jerusalem will not change - a sign that a row with the US over settlement building remains unresolved.

Benjamin Netanyahu's statement came as he was due to brief cabinet colleagues on talks with President Barack Obama. The US says some progress was made.

The row is over Israeli plans to build 1,600 homes in East Jerusalem, where the Palestinians want their capital.

After the announcement they pulled out of planned US-mediated peace talks.

Israel insists the Jerusalem will remain its undivided capital.

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.

Trappings withheld

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

Israel unveiled the plans to build in the East Jerusalem settlement of Ramat Shlomo during a visit by US Vice-President Joe Biden - a move which Washington initially branded an insult.

Hours before Mr Netanyahu's meeting with Mr Obama on Tuesday, it emerged that the Jerusalem municipal government had approved another development in occupied East Jerusalem.

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.

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

Israeli media reports say Mr Netanyahu told the US president he needed to consult with his cabinet, which includes far-right wingers who are strongly opposed to the division of Jerusalem, before reaching agreement.

"The prime minister's position is that there is no change in Israel's policy on Jerusalem that has been pursued by all governments of Israel for the last 42 years," his office said in a statement on Friday.

But a spokesman told Israeli media there had been a "narrowing of the gaps" between Israel and the US.

On Thursday, as Mr Netanyahu returned to Israel, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said: "We are making progress on important issues."

Meanwhile, a senior Palestinian official told the BBC that to enter the proximity talks the Palestinians required assurances that the Ramat Shlomo project would not be implemented for at least three years, and that the Israelis would not "continue to take actions which destroy our credibility".

The Middle East quartet - the US, EU, UN and Russia - has called for final status negotiations to reach a comprehensive peace deal within two years.

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

Scant information on the content of the talks has emerged and Mr Netanyahu did not get the reception usually reserved for America's allies, with no joint press conference or official photographs of the meeting.

The US asked for clarification about the Shepherd Hotel building project, which is a private plan by a Jewish-American property developer to build 20 apartments on the site of an old hotel in the predominantly Arab neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

The US protested when the project was initially approved last year.

The final building permits were granted last week. Israel says the timing was coincidental.

The Jerusalem municipality has accused left-wingers and the media of publicising and distorting the information to "stir up a provocation" just as Mr Netanyahu and Mr Obama were due to meet.

Correspondents say the row may force the Israeli prime minister to choose between his hardline coalition partners and US pressure to forge ahead with serious peace negotiations. Mr Netanyahu will also be mindful that he needs the US on side to take tough action against Iran and its alleged nuclear weapons programme, they say.

POINTS OF TENSION IN JERUSALEM
Map showing west bank barrier route
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 is for security



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