Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, under extraordinary pressure from the Obama administration to curb the construction of Jewish housing in Jerusalem, served notice on Monday that his government would not yield easily to American demands.
In a speech to a pro-Israel lobbying group, Mr. Netanyahu reiterated that Israel had no plans to freeze housing in Jerusalem, the trigger for a recent dispute between Israel and the United States. He rejected the administration’s contention that Israel’s policies were impeding the peace process.
“The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years, and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today,” Mr. Netanyahu said to the group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “Jerusalem is not a settlement; It’s our capital.”
Earlier Monday, Mr. Netanyahu met for 75 minutes with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in the first of a series of meetings expected to reveal whether the United States sticks to its hard line with Israel on settlements. He later met with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., and he was scheduled to meet President Obama on Tuesday.
The flurry of meetings is designed to calm the waters after nearly two weeks of tension between the United States and Israel, amid a diplomatic row that both countries have portrayed as the gravest in years. But judging by Mr. Netanyahu’s comments, it is far from clear that he plans to satisfy the demands that Mrs. Clinton made of him in a phone call 10 days ago.
The State Department spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, said that Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Netanyahu had “had a further discussion of the specific actions that might be taken to improve the atmosphere.” He did not give details.
The prime minister’s remarks were a pointed bookend to an earlier address to the same group by Mrs. Clinton. She warned that the Obama administration would push back “unequivocally” when it disagreed with the Israeli government’s policies. But she reaffirmed that America’s support for Israel was “rock solid, unwavering, enduring and forever.”
Mrs. Clinton sought to build solidarity with Israel on one area where they clearly have common ground, the potential nuclear threat from Iran. In the most enthusiastically received part of her speech, she pledged to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
She said the Obama administration was seeking sanctions with “bite.” That characterization is a modest, but noticeable, retreat from the administration’s language from last year, when Mrs. Clinton said the United States was seeking “crippling sanctions.”
“There must be no gap between the United States and Israel on security,” she said to loud applause.
The crowd of 7,000 quieted down quickly when Mrs. Clinton bluntly warned that the status quo in the Middle East was unsustainable, and that Israel’s continued construction of Jewish housing was undermining the prospect for peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
Mrs. Clinton defended her rebuke of Mr. Netanyahu’s government over its announcement of 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem during Mr. Biden’s visit. The move, she said, jeopardized indirect talks that the administration is trying to broker between Israelis and Palestinians.
“Our credibility in this process depends in part on our willingness to praise both sides when they are courageous, and when we don’t agree, to say so, and say so unequivocally,” she said.
In her call to Mr. Netanyahu, she demanded that Israel reverse the housing plan in the neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo; that the Israelis avoid further provocations in Jerusalem during planned peace talks; and that Mr. Netanyahu commit to substantive rather than procedural negotiations with the Palestinians, as Israel has said it would prefer.
Bibi Netanyahu gave his speech this evening at the annual AIPAC conference. And it amounted to one big ‘shove it’ to the president and the administration.