JERUSALEM — Israel's leader tried to play down tensions with the United States on Sunday after a rocky meeting at the White House last week, saying relations with Washington remain solid.
In his first public comments on the matter, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet that Israel and the United States can work out their differences.
"The relationship between Israel and the U.S. is one between allies and friends, and it's a relationship based on years of tradition," he said. "Even if there are disagreements, these are disagreements between friends, and that's how they will stay."
The United States has criticized Israeli construction in east Jerusalem — the section of the holy city claimed by the Palestinians. It has asked Israel for gestures toward the Palestinians to help relaunch peace talks, which were about to start this month when the latest spat over settlements began.
The planned negotiations were thrown into doubt after Israel announced plans to build 1,600 new apartments for Jews in east Jerusalem. Israel made the announcement while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting, drawing sharp condemnations from Washington and calls to cancel the construction plans.
Netanyahu, who has consistently rejected calls for any halt to building in Jerusalem, got a chilly reception at the White House last week. He gave no sign of giving in to the U.S. demand or resolving the dispute by the time he left.
Ties between Israel and the United States are more tense than they have been in years.
Netanyahu discussed the matter with his Cabinet ministers at their weekly meeting Sunday, and told reporters before the meeting that he had taken "certain steps in order to narrow the gaps."
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is a member of the moderate Labor Party, told reporters Sunday that Israel must make its own decisions relating to its vital interests. But he added that "we cannot ever lose touch with the importance of the relations and the ability to act in harmony and wide unity of purpose with the United States."