Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has begun closed-door talks with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington today, a day after asserting that Israel has the right to build new Jewish homes in East Jerusalem.
In a speech March 22 to a pro-Israel lobbying group in Washington, Netanyahu said construction on the disputed land is "not a settlement" but is part of Israel's capital. He said Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem will remain part of Israel in any potential peace deal with the Palestinians.
"The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago, and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today," he said. "Jerusalem is not a settlement. It's our capital."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the same meeting that Israel's policy of expanding Jewish settlements in disputed East Jerusalem and the West Bank is an obstacle to the peace process.
The Obama administration has criticized Israel's plan to build 1,600 new homes for Jews in occupied East Jerusalem. The plan has thrown into doubt the launch of renewed Israeli-Palestinian talks under U.S. mediation. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent Palestinian state.
Israel seized East Jerusalem in the "Six-Day War" of 1967 and annexed it, declaring it part of Israel. The United Nations has repeatedly called on Israel to withdraw from the territory. In 1980, Israel's parliament declared Jerusalem as the capital of Israel without specifying boundaries. But the UN Security Council has declared that Israeli law "null and void."
compiled from agency reports