US rejects talk of rift ahead of Netanyahu visit
The United States on Friday dismissed suggestions of a diplomatic rift with Israel, days ahead of a meeting between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, dpa reported.
The United States and Israel have been working to move beyond a dispute that erupted in March after Israel announced new construction on East Jerusalem land claimed by the Palestinians.
"There is absolutely no rift between the United States and Israel," said Ben Rhodes, a White House spokesman.
The March announcement angered Washington as it came while Vice President Joe Biden was in Israel to finalize the beginning of the indirect negotiations mediated by the United States. Obama had been calling on Israel to halt new settlement construction.
US officials openly criticized Israel in what many observers characterized as the worst crisis between the two close countries in decades. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton rebuked Netanyahu in a telephone call.
But now the White House is eager to move on and keep the Israelis and Palestinians focused on negotiations. Officials said Obama will urge Netanyahu in Tuesday's meeting to move towards direct talks with the Palestinians to capitalize on the "momentum" that has been gained under the indirect talks.
Officials also said Obama will press Netanyahu to do more to improve the situation in the Gaza Strip, which the president has called "unsustainable." Israel has maintained an embargo on Gaza since Hamas militants seized control of the tiny territory in 2007.
Israel began to ease the embargo following the storming in May of a Turkish flotilla that was heading to Gaza carrying humanitarian goods and pledging to run the blockade. The Israeli raid left nine people dead and sparked worldwide condemnation of Israel.
The incident prompted Netanyahu to rush home from Canada and postpone an earlier scheduled meeting at the White House.