Netanyahu, Clinton Vow to Keep Working to Revive Middle East Peace Talks

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said their countries will continue to “work closely in the coming days” to break the impasse in Middle East peace talks.

After eight hours of meetings yesterday in New York, Clinton and Netanyahu issued a joint statement that gave no indication progress was made in getting Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas back to the bargaining table.

In discussions “focused on creating the conditions” for renewed negotiations, the statement said the leaders had a “friendly and productive exchange of views.” Clinton reiterated the U.S.’s “unshakable commitment to Israel’s security” while stressing the “Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state.”

Even without a breakthrough, the length of Clinton’s meeting with the Israeli leader was unusual and shows the extent of the U.S. effort to keep the peace process moving, David Makovsky, head of the project on the Middle East peace process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said in a telephone interview.

“It’s a testament to dogged U.S. commitment on the issue,” he said. “Whether she has been successful is too soon to know.”

The meeting, with U.S. Middle East special envoy George Mitchell joining in, comes two days after the U.S. criticized Israel’s plans for new settlements in east Jerusalem.

Obama Criticism

President Barack Obama on Nov. 9 called Israeli plans to build hundreds of new homes in east Jerusalem not “helpful when it comes to peace negotiations.” Netanyahu said Israel has the right to build everywhere in the city.

“There is a fundamental disconnect at the moment between U.S. and Israeli priorities and strategies” on how to deal with the Palestinians and with Iran’s growing regional influence and nuclear ambitions, said Haim Malka, deputy director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Netanyahu believes that agreeing to the idea of a Palestinian state and a partial settlement freeze that ended in September were significant concessions that should have brought the Palestinians to direct talks, Malka said in an e-mail. Israelis are skeptical that additional concessions will change the Palestinian negotiating position or lead to an agreement that strengthens Israel’s security, he said.

Cantor Meeting

While Obama’s Democratic administration criticized the Israeli construction plans, Netanyahu met Nov. 10 in New York with Representative Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican who is in line to become majority leader when his party takes control of the U.S. House in January.

Cantor “has a long-standing friendship” with Netanyahu and spent more than an hour with the prime minister in New York, where Cantor “made clear that the Republican majority understands the special relationship between Israel and the United States, and that the security of each nation is reliant upon the other,” according to an e-mailed statement from the congressman’s spokesman, Brad Dayspring.

Cantor “reiterated his belief that compromise between Israel and the Palestinians can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the parties” and said Obama’s administration “should make absolutely clear” that the U.S. will veto any measure in the United Nations about establishing a Palestinian state, the statement said.

Talks Stalled

Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that started with a White House ceremony on Sept. 1 stalled less than a month later when a partial 10-month Israeli moratorium on West Bank building ended and Abbas said he wouldn’t continue talks unless construction stopped.

Palestinians seek the eastern sector of the city, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, as the capital of their state. Israel annexed the area in a move never recognized internationally.

Clinton said on Nov. 10 that the U.S. was “deeply disappointed” by the announcement of plans for new housing units in what she called “sensitive areas in east Jerusalem.” She called it “counterproductive to our efforts to resume negotiations between the parties.”

Abbas, speaking in Ramallah yesterday, urged Israel “not to miss the chance to make peace,” while repeating his insistence that West Bank building stop before talks can resume.

Palestinian leaders said they will seek recognition of an independent state from the United Nations Security Council if Israel doesn’t stop building in the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem captured in the 1967 war.

‘Way Overblown’

In a Nov. 9 interview with Bloomberg Television, Netanyahu said Palestinian complaints about Israeli settlement construction were “a minor issue” that has become “way overblown.”

On Nov. 10, the day before she met with Netanyahu, Clinton said the U.S. was giving $150 million in aid to the cash- strapped Palestinian Authority, an advance on the $200 million requested in fiscal 2011.

The grant “underscores the strong determination of the American people and of this administration to stand with our Palestinian friends even during difficult economic times as we have here at home,” Clinton said during a video conference with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

About 500,000 Jews have moved to the West Bank and Jerusalem since Israel captured the territories in the 1967 Middle East war. The UN says the settlements are illegal, and the International Committee of the Red Cross says they breach the Fourth Geneva Convention governing actions on occupied territory.

Israel says the settlements don’t fall under the convention because the territory wasn’t recognized as belonging to any country before the 1967 war, in which Israel prevailed, and therefore isn’t occupied.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jonathan Ferziger in New York at jferziger@bloomberg.net; Peter S. Green in New York at psgreen@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg in Jerusalem at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

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