WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama did not give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the cold shoulder when they met in the White House last week, a top Obama aide said on Sunday.
Obama met the Israeli leader in the White House on Tuesday but did not dine with his visitor and, by keeping the talks closed to the media, also denied Netanyahu the courtesy of a photo-opportunity with the president.
This raised questions in blogs and at White House news briefings that it was a deliberately calibrated gesture by the administration to communicate its displeasure with Netanyahu over Jewish housing construction in East Jerusalem, which have stalled peace negotiations with the Palestinians in the form of U.S-mediated indirect talks.
“This was a working meeting among friends. And so there was no snub intended,” White House senior adviser David Axelrod told CNN’s State of the Union news program.
Axelrod noted that the two leaders had met in private for two hours and had better things to do with their time than worry about protocol.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said prior to the leaders’ meeting that Israeli construction in East Jerusalem and the disputed West Bank undermines mutual trust.
Axelrod told CNN: “This was not about formalities. This was not about a ceremonial meeting. This was a working meeting. We have a deep, abiding interest in Israel’s security. And we believe the peace process is essential to that. And we are doing everything we can to move that process forward.”
Palestinians have demanded a complete settlement freeze in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas Israel captured in a 1967 war. Netanyahu leads a coalition government dominated by pro-settler parties, including his own.
The White House wants Israel to freeze settlement expansion as a goodwill gesture to the Palestinians.
Reporting by Alister Bull, editing by Philip Barbara