Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Clinton: Israel must extend Settlement freeze; Netanyahu heads to Washington

(Haaretz. INN). Israel and the Palestinians need to resolve a dispute over the expiry of an Israeli moratorium on West Bank settlement construction that threatens to scupper their nascent direct peace talks, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday.

Speaking as she flew to Egypt for a second round of direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Clinton said the two sides would get "down to business" and she repeated the U.S. view that Israel should extend its moratorium on new settlement construction in the West Bank.

"The United states believes that the moratorium should be extended," Clinton told reporters, echoing a view taken by U.S. President Barack Obama.

But she then put some of the onus on the Palestinians to take unspecified steps to help Netanyahu to extend the freeze.

"This has to be understood as an effort by both the prime minister and the president to get over the hurdle posed by the expiration of the original moratorium in order to continue negotiations," she said.

"There are obligations on both sides to ensure that these negotiations continue," she added.

She also sought to counter widespread pessimism that the first direct peace talks after a 20-month hiatus are unlikely to lead to success given the political divisions in Israel and among the Palestinians.

"For me, this is a simple choice: no negotiations, no security, no state," Clinton said as she began her journey to the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where the talks will take place on Tuesday.

"There is no prospect for success in the absence of direct negotiations," she added.

Clinton is to meet separately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Sharm el-Sheikh before holding a three-way meeting. She will hold another three-way meeting in Jerusalem on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will fly to Washington DC Sunday, in a surprising development reported by Channel 1 national television Tuesday evening. The station's political reporter Ayala Hasson said the trip is "90% certain" to take place and that it seems to reflect some kind of political development, but that the nature of the development is not known.