Netanyahu says Israel won't budge on building in East Jerusalem
After returning from a contentious visit to the White House, Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu reiterated that Israel would not compromise on building in East Jerusalem. But many observers say he will have to move away from coalition partners who advocate a hard line.
Tel Aviv, Israel
Returning from the United States to a swirl of speculation about political turmoil from Obama administration pressure for concessions to boost the peace process, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to mollify his allies.Skip to next paragraph
The Israeli leader huddled with a group of seven top cabinet ministers to formulate another response to US demands, but reiterated he would not compromise on Jewish building in predominantly Arab East Jerusalem. The prime minister added that he has no plans to jettison his political allies, according to the daily Haaretz newspaper's website.
But Netanyahu's stance and President Obama's pressure have resulted in the worst public spat between the US and Israel in decades. At stake for Israel is a potential deterioration of ties with its most important ally.
"There's no change in the prime ministers position regarding Jerusalem, which has been constant for the last 42 years,'' said a statement released by the prime minister's office.
The tough words came hours before two Israeli solders and two Palestinians were killed on the Israel-Gaza border. An Israeli military spokeswoman said the deaths were the result of an exchange of fire between a unit of soldiers that had entered Gaza after detecting Palestinian militants laying a roadside bomb.
Despite Netanyahu's defiant public stance this week, many experts believe that US pressure will force the prime minister to bend toward the Obama administration and away from right-wing coalition partners. In that case, Netanyahu would become reliant on the center-left Kadima party, and political rival Tzippi Livni.
But Netanyahu aide Tzvi Hauser told Israel television stations that he can find "golden path'' to satisfy the US while remaining faithful to his current government. Unnamed sources from the prime minister's office asserted the pressure amounted to meddling in Israel's domestic politics, because it could force a new election.
Indeed, it is a commonly held view that a compromise between Obama and the interests of hard-line politicians like Avigdor Lieberman is impossible to strike.
"Since Netanyahu cannot reconcile the most extreme elements of his government with the American positions on the peace process,'' says Scott Lasensky, a fellow at the US Institute for Peace, a government-funded nonpartisan think tank, "he is facing a fundamental choice – and if history is any guide, the Israeli public prefers strong relations with Washington than settlement building in Arab areas.''