WASHINGTON – Rebuffing Israel on a key Mideast negotiating issue, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the Obama administration wants a complete halt in the growth of Jewish settlements on Palestinian territory, with no exceptions.
President Barack Obama “wants to see a stop to settlements – not some settlements; not outposts; not natural growth exceptions,” Clinton said.
Growth in settlements built on the West Bank has become a key point of disagreement between the U.S. and Israel as the Obama administration assembles its plan to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
U.S. officials believe that a complete Israeli halt to settlement growth could lead to early concessions from moderate Arab nations and put new momentum behind the peace effort. But Israeli officials maintain that existing settlements should be allowed to expand to accommodate the natural growth of Israeli families.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who will have his first meeting with Obama today at the White House, considers a complete settlement freeze a precondition for new talks. Abbas, who is politically weak and needs a concession to bolster his position, is expected to emphasize this point at the Washington meeting.
U.S. and Israeli officials have been debating the issue in meetings since conservative Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Obama earlier this month.
The administration has communicated its position “very clearly, not only to the Israelis, but to the Palestinians and others, and we intend to press that point,” Clinton said Wednesday in an appearance at the State Department with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit.
Israeli officials are willing to limit growth in outlying settlements, but contend expansion should be allowed in larger settlements, closer to Israeli territory, that probably would be annexed to Israel in any final settlement.
Netanyahu reiterated that stand in a meeting of his cabinet on Sunday.