Not So Candid Camera; US-Israel Spat Moves Behind Closed Doors

If the optics surrounding the public spat between the United States and Israel reveal anything about the substance of it, the two sides are still far apart.

For the second time in a row, President Obama has met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu without a single television or still camera there to capture it. At the White House, today, reporters pressed Press Secretary Robert Gibbs' on why. Gibbs didn't play; merely saying the choice to not allow cameras into the late Tuesday afternoon meeting was valid.

After about an hour and a half of talks, the President and Prime Minister wrapped things up, only to have the Prime Minister summon Mr. Obama later. The two held a second meeting for some 35 more minutes.

The leaders have a lot to discuss since Netanyahu recently announced a push for new Israeli settlements in Jerusalem; something Vice President Biden discovered upon his arrival in the region recently to discuss Israeli-Palestinian peace. The White House considered the announcement a slap in the face.

Since that time, though, Netanyahu has made the rounds here in the US, meeting with Mr. Biden for dinner and with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The Clinton meeting produced official pictures but TV networks' access was restricted.

The dinner at the Vice President's residence was closed to the press. The only evidence of the meeting was the official White House photo below.

It's unclear whether such insular meetings are the preference of the Israelis, as well as the Americans. One thing that is becoming clear, though, is the divergent priorities of the two countries; with Israel confirming today its intention to build yet more homes in a neighborhood from which Palestinians were evicted last year.

Perhaps not wanting to deepen the morass, Gibbs told reporters the White House was seeking "clarification" on the announcement.

It's anyone's guess how tense the discussion is behind closed doors, but at least publicly, the leaders and their aides are keeping straight faces, "President Obama and the prime minister met privately for an hour and a half, the atmosphere was good," Netanyahu's spokesman Nir Chefetz said after Tuesday's meeting.

Indeed, Gibbs said the discussion was "honest" and "straight-forward."

"The president asked the Prime Minister to take steps to build confidence for proximity talks so that progress can be made towards comprehensive Middle East Peace. There are areas of agreement, there are areas of disagreement and that conversation is ongoing."

Gibbs wouldn't reveal what the two might have said over the issue of settlements, however.

Obama's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, will meet with the Prime Minister tomorrow.