Rift Over New Housing Clouds Netanyahu's Visit

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu i

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to reporters before a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (right) on Tuesday in Washington, D.C. Netanyahu's visit comes on the heels of an uproar over Israel's decision to construct new housing in East Jerusalem, an area under dispute with the Palestinians. Mark Wilson/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to reporters before a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (right) on Tuesday in Washington, D.C. Netanyahu's visit comes on the heels of an uproar over Israel's decision to construct new housing in East Jerusalem, an area under dispute with the Palestinians.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

A serious diplomatic row earlier this month has overshadowed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Washington. But he has remained firm on Israel's decision to build 1,600 new Jewish housing units in East Jerusalem, an area Palestinians consider their future capital.

Netanyahu knows Washington and its many movers and shakers, and he has spent the better part of the past two days in meetings with senior administration officials and leaders of the Senate and House.

In addition to the Middle East peace process, Netanyahu has stressed that the U.S. and Israel have a common interest in stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

"If this terror tyranny acquires atomic bombs, they could easily give them to terrorist proxies. They could also contemplate using these weapons themselves," Netanyahu said in remarks before a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Leader John Boehner. "And this is something of intolerable danger to all of us."

While Netanyahu has held several high-profile meetings in Washington, signs of strain are apparent: Photo ops were canceled, venues changed, meetings became private. All this has led to speculation that the very public diplomatic rift over Israel's housing policies has not yet healed.

President Obama is holding a closed-door meeting with Netanyahu at the White House on Tuesday. The decidedly low-key event is their first meeting since Israel announced the construction plan.

The Obama administration is pressing Israel to curb the construction of Jewish housing in East Jerusalem, saying it is undermining efforts to restart stalled peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

But in a speech Monday to the pro-Israeli lobby group AIPAC, Netanyahu said Israel had the right to build in Jerusalem; that the city is not a settlement, it's Israel's capital; and that building there does not compromise any peace deal.

Striking that defiant note may go over well with pro-Israel activists, but administration officials say they will not hesitate to criticize Netanyahu when they feel his policies are jeopardizing the peace process.

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