Secretary of state edges U.S. closer to Israeli stance
JERUSALEM – Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, trying to coax Palestinian leaders to restart peace talks with Israel, said Saturday that Israel was offering “unprecedented” concessions to limit the growth of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Clinton’s remarks moved the Obama administration closer to Israel’s position and further from that of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has refused to return to negotiations without a freeze on settlement activity on land Palestinians claim for a future state.
After a day of meetings with leaders of both sides, Clinton appeared no closer to ending the impasse.
Clinton met with Abbas in Abu Dhabi before flying to Israel. Abbas told reporters after the meeting that he had stuck to his position that “peace must have its commitments – (that) being the complete halt to settlement building.”
Abbas’ spokesman, Nabil abu Rudaineh, added: “There was no breakthrough in the talks.”
Settlements built on land Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War have been a stumbling block in decades of efforts to end the conflict.
Palestinians contend a U.S.-backed 2003 peace plan obliges Israel to halt settlement growth.
Speaking at a news conference with Clinton on Saturday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeated the concessions he was willing to make: Israel will build no new settlement communities, expropriate no land for existing ones and limit the number of permits for new housing.
In previous statements, Israeli officials had said they would permit no more than about 3,000 new homes for nine months after a new round of peace talks starts.
Netanyahu said Israel was ready to start talks and the Palestinians could bring their objections about settlements to the negotiating table.
“What we should do on the path to peace is get on it and get with it,” he said.