Arab and Palestinian leaders reacted angrily after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Oct. 31 departed from her administration’s insistence that Israel halt settlement growth, instead applauding Tel Aviv’s “restraint on the policy of settlements.” Palestinians have refused to return to negotiations with Israel until it fulfills committments to halt de facto expansion of its borders into occupied territory—a stance President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated from Abu Dhabi. In Morocco, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa denied the that negotiations could resume without a freeze in settlement construction.
Speaking alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Clinton said, “What the prime minister has offered in specifics of restraint on the policy of settlements…is unprecedented in the context of prior-to negotiations.”
“There are always demands made in any negotiation that are not going to be fully realized,” she added. “Negotiation by its very definition is a process of trying to meet the other’s needs while protecting your core interests, and on settlements there’s never been a pre-condition.”
Clinton insisted that settlements have “always been an issue within the negotiations,” agreeing with Netanyahu that a freeze has never preceded talks. “What the prime minister is saying is historically accurate.”
In a slight concession, she offered: “We hope that we’ll be able to move into the negotiations where all the issues that President [Barack] Obama mentioned in his speech at the United Nations will be on the table for the parties to begin to resolve.”
During remarks to the UN General Assembly in New York in late September, Barack Obama reiterated that the US rejects “the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.” (Ma’an News Agency, AFP, Nov. 1)
Clinton’s comments were in contrast to the previous stance of the Obama administration, which has pressured Israel to halt all settlement construction. In May, after Obama’s first meeting with Netanyahu, Clinton said the US “wants to see a stop to settlements—not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions.”
Netanyahu has remained intransigent, insisting that the nearly 500,000 settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem could not be expected to stop building as their communities expanded. He has proposed limiting construction to about 3,000 homes that have been approved already by the Israeli authorities in the West Bank—but has not considered any halt in East Jerusalem.
Nabil Abu Rudeinah, a spokesman for Presidenty Abbas, said: “The negotiations are in a state of paralysis, and the result of Israel’s intransigence and America’s back-pedalling is that there is no hope of negotiations on the horizon.” (London Times, Nov. 2)
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