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Mideast stalemate frustrates Clinton

Sides must make ‘difficult decisions,’ she insists

WASHINGTON – Without suggesting a new path toward Mideast peace, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed frustration Friday with the Israel-Palestine impasse while insisting the Obama administration will “not lose hope.”

She said the U.S. will keep pressing for a solution, and she called on Israelis and Palestinians to set aside their differences.

“It is no secret that the parties have a long way to go and that they have not yet made the difficult decisions that peace requires,” she said in a dinner speech at the Saban Forum, a Mideast policy seminar sponsored by the Brookings Institution think tank. “And like many of you, I regret that we have not gotten farther, faster.”

She spoke just days after the administration dropped an effort to persuade Israel to impose a temporary freeze on some settlement activity. The Palestinians insist that direct peace talks cannot resume until Israel halts settlement construction.

Clinton made clear that she believes the Israelis and Palestinians are ultimately responsible for settling their long conflict.

“Unfortunately, as we have learned, the parties in this conflict have often not been ready to take the necessary steps,” she said. “Going forward, they must take responsibility and make the difficult decisions that peace requires. This begins with a sincere effort to see the world through the other side’s eyes, to try to understand their perspective and positions. … Ignoring the other side’s needs is in the end self-defeating.”

And she said the status quo is untenable.

“I know that improvements in security and growing prosperity have convinced some that this conflict can be waited out or largely ignored,” she said. “This view is wrong and it is dangerous.”

Following Clinton to the podium, Israeli Defense Minsiter Ehud Barak predicted that without an Israeli-Palestinian peace, the cycle of Mideast violence will be perpetuated. He said Israel needs the “political wisdom” to find a way to a two-state solution: a secure Israel and an independent Palestinian state.

Clinton did not mention the administration’s frequently repeated goal of achieving at least the outline of a final peace settlement by September 2011. That goal was set when Israeli and Palestinian leaders came to Washington in September to resume negotiations – a process that quickly broke down over Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank.