Netanyahu Tries to Downplay Tensions With U.S.

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that the recent dispute between the U.S. and Israel was a controversy between friends.

His statement tried to downplay the disagreement between the U.S. and Israel over Israeli construction in Jerusalem.

The Netanyahu government says it will continue to build in Jerusalem even though the U.S. has demanded Israel stop all construction in east Jerusalem. That includes the Jewish neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo in north Jerusalem, which has been the subject of controversy between the U.S. and Israel in the last few weeks.

Many Israeli leaders are shocked that the U.S. is trying to tell Israel it cannot build new housing in its own Jewish neighborhoods -- places the U.S. has never openly disputed with such intensity in the past.

The Israeli Daily Haaretz is also reporting some Israeli officials are deeply concerned the Obama administration will try to impose a peace deal on Israel.

"There is no meaning to a Palestinian state without Jerusalem as being its capital," Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared at the Arab League summit in Libya this weekend.

Some reports also said Syrian President Bashar Assad said at the summit that Palestinians should stop negotiations and renew armed resistance.

The summit once again raised the issue that Israeli construction in Jerusalem and the West Bank, also known at the biblical land of Judea and Samaria, was illegal under international law.

But Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon issued a rebuttal to the statements from the Arab League meeting.

"For too long our opponents have been able to talk about international law without being held to account," he said. "We say strongly and firmly that we have a legal right to build in Jerusalem."

On Monday, Israel begins its celebration of the Passover holiday. It is the time when Jews around the world traditionally say, "Next year in Jerusalem."

For the first time in more than 2,000 years, the Jewish people gained control of Jerusalem in 1967. It is unlikely world pressure will force them to stop rebuilding in their ancient capital.

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