Obama and Netanyahu meet for first talks since Gaza war

US president asks Israeli prime minister to take measures to stop the killing of Palestinians as Israel presses ahead with plans for 2,610 new settler homes in annexed East Jerusalem.

US president Barack Obama, right, meets with Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House in Washington on Wednesday.     Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
Powered by automated translation

WASHINGTON // President Barack Obama and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu pressed each other politely but firmly on Wednesday to address areas of tension in their relationship, with the US president calling for an end to Palestinian civilian deaths.

Meanwhile, a watchdog said on Wednesday that Israel will press ahead with the construction of 2,610 settler homes in annexed East Jerusalem.

The housing units, which have been slated for construction since 2012 in the neighbourhood of Givat Hamatos, were given final approval last week, Peace Now said.

Hagit Ofran, spokeswoman for the Israeli non-governmental group, said the government could now publish tenders for the project, but that it would be months before building actually began.

The settlements watchdog said the plans damaged prospects for peace and an eventual independent Palestinian state.

“Givat Hamatos is destructive to the two-state solution,” it said.

“It divides the potential Palestinian state... Netanyahu continues his policy of destroying the possibility of a two-state solution.”

The timing was a political decision, Ms Ofran said, but the exact reason was unclear.

In Washington, Mr Obama and Mr Netanyahu spoke to reporters before convening private discussions in the Oval Office. It’s the first time the two leaders have met since Israel’s summer war with Hamas, which killed more than 2,100 Palestinians — the vast majority of them civilians — and more than 70 Israelis.

The civilian deaths in Gaza deeply angered US officials, prompting more biting public condemnations of Israel’s actions than are typical from the Obama administration.

Sitting alongside Mr Netanyahu Wednesday, Mr Obama said leaders must “find ways to change the status quo so that Israeli citizens are safe in their own homes, and schoolchildren in their schools, from the possibility of rocket fire but also that we don’t have the tragedy of Palestinian children being killed as well.”

Much of Mr Obama and Mr Netanyahu’s meeting was expected to focus on the US-led nuclear negotiations with Iran. The US and its negotiating partners — Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — have until November 24 to reach a deal with Iran, though all sides say significant gaps remain.

Mr Netanyahu reiterated his scepticism about the diplomatic process and his fear that Iran will be allowed to keep aspects of its nuclear programme.

“Iran seeks a deal that would lift the tough sanctions that you worked so hard to put in place and leave it as a threshold nuclear power,” Mr Netanyahu said. “And I firmly hope under your leadership that would not happen.”

Israel and the United States contend that Iran is seeking to build a nuclear bomb.

* Associated Press and Agence France-Press