US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday pressed the Palestinian Authority to return to direct negotiations, saying the process represents "not just the best but the only path to the independent state they deserve."

"We have to convince Palestinians that negotiations with Israel represent not just the best but the only path to the independent state they deserve," Clinton said at the Saban Forum in Washington, DC. "Israel needs to help those committed to peace deliver to their people."

The remarks came just a day after the Palestinians were granted non-member status at the United Nations General Assembly.

Clinton presented four main US policy goals pertaining to Israel and the Middle East. First, Clinton emphasized the need to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons. "Iranian-made missiles and rockets launched from Gaza at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem drove home what we already know," she said. "The International community must prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon."

She added: "The Iranian regime already exports terrorism. Not only to Israel's doorstep, but across the world... We do not have a policy of containment. We have a policy of prevention."

Clinton left room for negotiations over Iran's illicit nuclear program, but said the "window for negotiation will not stay open forever."

Clinton's second goal was to ensure the cease-fire between Israel and Gaza remains intact. "America and Israel have to work together... to turn the cease-fire into a lasting calm," she said, reiterating her support for Israel's right to self-defense.

Third, Clinton said Israel must work to promote Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, despite his unilateral moves at the UN. "Abbas took a step in the wrong direction this week," she said. "We opposed his resolution. But we need to see that the PA in the West Bank offers the" best chance for achieving a two-state solution.

Her remarks contrasted with comments made at the same conference by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, who took sharp aim at Abbas for his unilateral moves for statehood at the UN. "Hamas is more effective and has more political will and determination than Abbas," Liberman said, after accusing him of trying to divert attention from domestic policy failures.

Clinton's fourth policy goal was that the US and Israel should support movements for democratic change in the Arab world.

Clinton devoted a significant part of her speech to touting the US-Israel relationship, both in peacetime and in wartime. "For years we have told you, our Israeli friends, that America has Israel's back," she said. "When Israel responded to a rain of rockets... America's next move was never in question. The fragile cease-fire is holding. The skies above Israel are clear. And we are beginning to see the efforts to rebuild and resume daily life. But the world knows, and always will know, that whenever Israel is threatened the United States will be there."

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