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Clinton and Netanyahu differ on settlements

WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented dueling positions on Jerusalem construction yesterday, underlining a recent spat between the allies while simultaneously suggesting the incident is behind them.

Israel's recent announcement of new housing plans for east Jerusalem, the part of the city Palestinians want for a future capital, had drawn unusually sharp criticism from the Obama administration.

Clinton renewed that disapproval yesterday, telling a pro-Israel audience that provocative Israeli land policies in areas claimed by the Palestinians are not in Israel's long-term interests and undermine U.S. credibility as a mediator.

Speaking later in the day to nearly 8,000 pro-Israel activists at the same forum, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, including hundreds of congressmen and senators, Netanyahu did not budge from his position that building anywhere in Jerusalem is an Israeli right.

At the same time both sides appeared to be indicating that, while differences may remain, the spat, unique in recent memory for its harsh rhetoric and public nature, should not be allowed to further mar ties or delay the launch of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The spread of Jewish homes on land claimed by the Palestinians threatens the Obama administration's first attempts at shuttle diplomacy intended to establish an independent Palestinian state, Clinton said in her speech, and makes it hard for the United States to be an honest broker.

She also criticized Palestinian incitement to violence.

President Barack Obama has remained out of the fray as Clinton and other U.S. officials have rebuked Israel for its announcement of new construction in Jerusalem, which came while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting the country.

Obama agreed to see Netanyahu today at the White House, his first meeting with the Israeli leader since the diplomatic breach over the housing announcement. But it will be closed to reporters, an unusual choice when hosting a close ally and a sign that suggested the rift may not be entirely healed.

The AIPAC crowd responded with notably more enthusiasm to Netanyahu's assertion that Jews had been building in Jerusalem for 3,000 years and would continue to do so. Clinton got loud approval when she talked tough on Iran, an issue on which there is more agreement.

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