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No Change on Jerusalem Policy: Netanyahu


Israel has vowed its policy on Jerusalem will not change as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pictured, convenes his security cabinet to craft a response to US demands for peace-promoting concessions. (AFP/Jim Hollander)

JERUSALEM - Israel vowed its policy on Jerusalem would not change as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday convened his security cabinet to craft a response to US demands for peace-promoting concessions.

Netanyahu returned from Washington on Thursday after a tense visit that appeared to deepen a bitter row with the administration of President Barack Obama over the building of Jewish settlements in annexed Arab east Jerusalem.

"The prime minister's position is that there is no change in Israel's policy on Jerusalem that has been pursued by all governments of Israel for the last 42 years," his office said in a statement.

The Americans have reportedly demanded from Netanyahu a series of steps to help kickstart stalled peace talks with the Palestinians.

The hawkish premier was to discuss the US demands with his inner forum of seven senior ministers later in the day.

Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser said it was unlikely there would be quick agreement among the seven and denied media reports of a US deadline to supply answers by Saturday night.

"I suggest you wait patiently. The forum of seven is meeting today in the afternoon to discuss things. If there is a necessity for further discussions they will happen," Hauser told public radio.

"All aspects of the issue will be examined and they will formulate Israel's position according to Israel's interests and in the time needed to do so," he said.

Hauser declined to discuss the details of Washington's demands, in line with the laconic stance adopted by both sides.

Israeli media said it was unlikely the security cabinet, which includes several hardline politicians, would agree to what was being asked.

Netanyahu's carefully-coordinated dressing down in Washington was reportedly accompanied by demands for wide-ranging measures including the extension of a partial settlement halt and the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

There was an unusually opaque news blackout throughout the visit, no concrete achievements were reported and the Israeli leader was given none of the trappings usually reserved for visitors such as a photo opportunity and press conference.

Still, late on Thursday both sides tried to put a more positive spin on what has been called the worst crisis between the allies in decades.

Government spokesman Nir Hefetz insisted Israel had edged closer to an understanding with its closest ally.

"There was progress. There is a narrowing of the gaps between the positions of Israel and the positions of the United States on this issue," he told Israel's privately-run Channel Two television.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said: "We are making progress on important issues."

The spat erupted earlier this month after Netanyahu's government announced it would build 1,600 new homes for Jewish settlers in east Jerusalem during a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden to promote peace talks.

The Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their promised state, and refuse to meet Netanyahu face-to-face without a complete freeze of settlement construction in the occupied territories.

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