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Israel Special: Obama-Netanyahu Meeting and the Settlement "Surprise"

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a two-hour low-profile meeting in two separate sessions. The leaders met for 90 minutes, adjourned to talk to advisors, and then Netanyahu requested another half-hour discussion.

NEW Middle East Therapy: Why You Are Not Necessarily “Anti-Israel” (Wright)
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Unusually, reporters were not invited to see Obama and Netanyahu shake hands and begin talks. At the end of the second meeting, the White House did not issue any statement. As for the Israelis, Netanyahu spokesman Nir Chefetz said only, "President Obama and the prime minister met privately for an hour and a half, the atmosphere was good."

Indeed, the meeting was overshadowed by another pre-emptive political strike from Israel. Netanyahu had assured Washington that there would not be another "surprise" similar to the announcement of extra 1,600 housing units made while Vice President Joe Biden was in Israel, but hours before the meeting in the White House, the Jerusalem municipality announced final approval for construction of 20 apartments in a controversial hotel in east Jerusalem. The units, located in the Shepherd Hotel purchased by American tycoon Irving Moskowitz in 1985 for $1 million, were initially approved by the local planning council in July.

So, given the timing of Netanyahu's visit and this latest defiance of US wishes for a settlement freeze, is Defense Minister Ehud Barak the only Israeli leader speaking openly and honestly? In an interview to be aired on the US Public Broadcasting Service on Wednesday, Barak has said that he cannot guarantee that there won't be any future mishaps regarding settlement building. He said:
I cannot tell you that we fully control any step or any announcement about all these dozens [of] programs which are in the pipeline, including many that are related to Arab building in Jerusalem and so on.

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