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Obama Reaffirms ‘Unbreakable’ U.S., Israeli Bond During Netanyahu Visit

July 6, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT

GWEN IFILL: Inside the White House, two allies try to patch up their relationship.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama had a full agenda on tap for today’s Oval Office meeting. But, after months of public disagreement over settlement construction and the blockade of Gaza, fences had to be mended first.

U.S. PRESDIENT BARACK OBAMA: The bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable. It encompasses our national security interests, our strategic interests, but, most importantly, the bond of two democracies who share a common set of values and whose people have grown closer and closer as time goes on.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Israeli prime minister: Reports about the demise of the special U.S.-Israel relations — relationship aren’t just premature, they’re just flat wrong. There is a — there’s a depth and richness of this relationship that is expressed every day.

GWEN IFILL: The last time Netanyahu came to the White House, no coverage of the meeting was allowed, and Mr. Obama appeared to snub the Israeli leader. That was shortly after Israeli officials surprised the U.S. by announcing additional settlement construction in East Jerusalem while Vice President Biden was in the country.

In May, the U.S. also joined other nations in questioning Israel’s decision to intercept Turkish ships headed toward Gaza. Nine protesters were killed. But, today, as the two met for their fifth meeting since taking office, Mr. Obama said any notion that U.S. and Israeli ties have frayed is wrong.

BARACK OBAMA: I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace. I think he’s willing to take risks for peace. And during our conversation, he once again reaffirmed his willingness to engage in serious negotiations with the Palestinians.

GWEN IFILL: And Netanyahu affirmed his support for face-to-face talks with the Palestinians. His cabinet endorsed the move on Sunday.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Israelis are prepared to do a lot to get that peace in place, but they want to make sure that after all the steps they take, that what we get is a secure peace.

GWEN IFILL: Still, the question of settlement-building remains a major sticking point. A temporary moratorium on new housing construction in areas Palestinians claim for an independent state ends in September.

An Israeli human rights group reported today that Jewish settlements now control more than 42 percent of the West Bank.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat spoke today in Jericho.

SAEB EREKAT, chief Palestinian negotiator: The key to the direct negotiation is in the hand of Prime Minister Netanyahu. It’s up to him. He has the choice. We will have direct negotiations. We want direct negotiations.

GWEN IFILL: Prime minister Netanyahu also faces pressure at home from Israeli voters. Yesterday, thousands brought Tel Aviv to a standstill, demanding the government do whatever it takes to free Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. He’s been held by Hamas militants in Gaza for four years.

But those tensions took a backseat today in Washington, where the two leaders turned their attention to refreshing an old alliance