Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Israeli settlements: strong words from Hillary Clinton

BBC News Online, 22 March 2010

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called on Israel to make "difficult but necessary choices" if it wants a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Mrs Clinton warned that the status quo was "unsustainable" in a speech to a pro-Israel lobby group.

Her comments come amid a dispute between the US and Israel over plans for 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem.

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ruled out halting settlement construction in the city.

The Palestinian Authority is furious at Israel's insistence on building on occupied territory. It sees it as a serious stumbling block to the resumption of talks, which have been stalled for more than a year.

Nearly 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They are held to be illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

In her speech to a convention in Washington of the influential Aipac (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), Mrs Clinton underscored the Obama administration's "rock solid" commitment to Israel.

"Guaranteeing Israel's security is more than a policy position for me. It is a personal commitment that will never waver," she said.

But, she added, it is Washington's "responsibility to give credit when it is due and to tell the truth when it is needed".

New construction in East Jerusalem or the West Bank "undermines mutual trust" and "exposes daylight between Israel and the United States that others in the region hope to exploit" she said.

Mrs Clinton has demanded Mr Netanyahu move to restore confidence in the peace process, including extending the suspension of new building in the West Bank to include East Jerusalem.

In a telephone call on Friday, the Israeli prime minister proposed a series of "trust-building measures" that represented "a real effort" to aid US peace efforts.

Although details have not yet been made public, Israeli officials say these include an agreement to discuss all outstanding issues in the indirect "proximity talks" being mediated by US special envoy George Mitchell.

However Israel will not discuss a freeze on settlement construction in Jerusalem.

"As far as we are concerned, building in Jerusalem is like building in Tel Aviv," Mr Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday.

But Mrs Clinton warned in her speech to Aipac that the "status quo is unsustainable for all sides" and "promises only violence and unrealised aspirations".

"There is another path - a path that leads toward security and prosperity for all the people of the region. It will require all parties including Israel to make difficult but necessary choices," she said.

Read the article in full here.

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