WASHINGTON-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spent time face-to-face with several leaders of the United States over the last two weeks, but his speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference Monday night proved that the diplomatic row over Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem still hasn't died down.
"The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 year ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today," Netanyahu told the audience at the annual conference of the Israeli lobby group in Washington. "Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital."
When Vice President Joe Biden embarked on a trip to Israel about two weeks ago, news broke that Israel would be building 1,600 Jewish homes in East Jerusalem. The Obama administration had said that freezing new settlements was key to getting Palestinians and Israelis to the negotiating table.
The prime minister apologized about the timing of the announcement when Biden was in Israel but still insists that construction in East Jerusalem will go forward. Tuesday, the prime minister planned to meet with President Obama. The president was scheduled to be in Asia during Netanyahu's visit, but Obama postponed the trip at the last minute so he could oversee the passage of healthcare reform. A swathe of reports indicates that behind closed doors Israel is agreeing to slowdown construction of the settlements even while Netanyahu makes defiant statements.
"Everyone knows that these neighborhoods will be part of Israel in any peace settlement," the prime minister said Monday. "Therefore, building them in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking to the AIPAC audience earlier in the day, stood firm in the administration's opposition to new settlements.
"New construction in East Jerusalem or the West Bank undermines that mutual trust and endangers the proximity talks that are the first step toward the full negotiations that both sides say they want and need," she said. "And it exposes daylight between Israel and the United States that others in the region hope to exploit. It undermines America's unique ability to play a role-an essential role-in the peace process. 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."
A perhaps more frightening prospect on the minds of everyone living inside the borders of Israel is a nuclear Iran.
"The future of the Jewish state can never depend on the goodwill of even the greatest of men," Netanyahu said, affirming the possibility of taking unilateral action against the country. "Israel must always reserve the right to defend itself."
Clinton addressed Iran without talking about a potential unilateral action from Israel, saying simply that the United States "is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons."
On a lighter note, the activist group Code Pink issued a fake press release from the AIPAC spokesman with all the markings of AIPAC calling for the Israeli government to "immediately freeze new settlement projects, both in the West Bank and Jerusalem."
National Public Radio and others reported the statement as though it came from AIPAC-only to discover Tuesday afternoon that Code Pink had authored it.