Netanyahu 'agrees to settlement freeze' in tense talks with Obama


Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu tried to put on a brave face following the demonstrably low-key fashion in which he was received on Monday at the White House. However, Israeli officials have admitted that the nature of the meeting was “a reprimand” to the prime minister and that Mr Netanyahu conceded on a number of issues, including the settlement freeze and the release of Palestinian prisoners.

No official account of the meeting between Mr Netanyahu and President Barack Obama, which took over an hour-and-a-half on Monday evening, has been released by either the American or Israeli sides.

Both Mr Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who participated in part of the meeting, cancelled their customary briefings to the Israeli press following the meeting.

Mr Netanyahu gave a short interview to Israel Radio before leaving Washington in which he denied that the meeting was tense, terming it instead “positive and focused”.

“In the future it will be understood how important this meeting was,” he added.

But senior Israeli officials admitted that the way the prime minister had been brought to the meeting, in a van instead of a limousine, and the White House’s refusal to allow the release of any official photographs, were clear signs of the Americans’ displeasure at leaks from previous meetings. In the past, aides of the prime minister were quoted as saying that “we beat Obama”.

One of them said that “the Americans are testing us now”.

Sources in Mr Netanyahu’s office affirmed also that the Americans “were not happy” at the way the prime minister had imposed the meeting upon them by visiting Washington, ostensibly to speak at the Jewish Federation’s General Assembly.

The White House finally confirmed the meeting would take place only on Monday morning and it was scheduled for 7pm, too late for live coverage on Israeli television.

Most of the meeting was without aides, but Israeli sources have confirmed that despite the Palestinian refusal to join negotiations, Mr Netanyahu promised President Obama that no new building projects would be launched in the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the coming months.

He said also that Israel would release Palestinian prisoners to boost the flagging political standing of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Sources at the Housing Ministry confirmed that no new building tenders were currently being issued for settlements on the West Bank or in the Jewish neighbourhoods of east Jerusalem but would not connect that with Israel-US relations.

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