WASHINGTON – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemed to push back Wednesday
night against Palestinian efforts to unilaterally declare a state, stressing
that direct negotiations are the only way to move forward.
“There is no
substitute for face-to-face discussion and, ultimately, for an agreement that
leads to a just and lasting peace,” Clinton told the American Task Force for
Palestine at its annual gala dinner. “That is the only path that will lead to
the fulfillment of the Palestinian national aspirations and the necessary
outcome of two states for two peoples.”
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Her comments came as Palestinian
and Arab leaders have increasingly suggested they might try to get the UN to
sanction a unilateral declaration of statehood. Such talk has picked up since
negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians have stalled, with Palestinians
refusing to continue discussions once Israel let a freeze on settlements expire
on September 26.
Clinton acknowledged having hit a snag, noting that
“it’s no secret that we are in a difficult period.”
But she said the US
remained committed to the process despite the obstacles and that US Middle East
envoy George Mitchell would return to the region soon.
“I cannot stand
here tonight and tell you there is some magic formula that I have discovered
that will break through the current impasse,” she said. “But I can tell you we
are working every day, sometimes every hour, to create the conditions for
negotiations to continue and succeed.”
Clinton continued to express faith
in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu, describing them as “serious about this effort” and declaring, “I am
convinced they want to the leaders who finally end this conflict.”
she urged all the parties to do more.
“We still need many more steps from
Israel to enable more economic activity in Gaza, including exports that bolster
legitimate business enterprises,” she said to applause.
She began her
remarks with a “strong condemnation” of the alleged arsonists who burned down a
school warehouse near Nablus on Wednesday and called for a “swift
Many believe that Israeli settlers were behind the
Clinton only mentioned settlements briefly, however, using softer
language than she and other US officials have in the past when she simply
stating that “our position on settlements is well-known and has not
Clinton also called on Arab states to do more to support the
Palestinians, saying that the PA needs “a larger, steadier, and more predictable
source of financial support.”
She also called on Arab countries to begin
to work to implement the Arab Peace Initiative.
When it came to the
Palestinians, Clinton repeated a US call for dealing with incitement, telling
the audience, “Palestinians could do more to discourage and denounce incitement
that inflames tensions and undermines cooperation.”
Israel has growing
concerns about Palestinian initiatives to declare unilateral statehood and how
that might undercut peace talks and worsen Israel’s position. Members of the
American Jewish community have also expressed their hope that the administration
would speaking out strongly against such a move.
Ambassador to the US
Michael Oren on Tuesday declared that Israel wouldn’t be swayed by such efforts.
Speaking at the US Chamber of Commerce, he maintained, “Netanyahu will not allow
the UN or any other organization to dictate our borders. Our borders will only
be established through direct negotiations with the Palestinians and our other
While Clinton’s comments weren’t explicit, they seemed
to make clear that the US does not look favorably on unilateral moves such as
going to the UN.
“Negotiations are not easy, but they too are absolutely
necessary. It is always easier to defer decisions than it is to make them,” she
said, rejecting the notion that it’s “viable to build the institutions of a
future state without the negotiations that will ultimately create
Scott Lasensky, a US Institute of Peace Middle East expert who
attended Wednesday’s gala dinner, said Clinton’s comments carried an implied
“It was a polite way of saying that for the United States, the
negotiating track is the only way forward,” he explained.
was also in attendance Wednesday, the first time an Israeli ambassador has
participated in the event, according to ATFP organizers. In addition, many
representatives from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Israel
Project, the American Jewish Committee and other pro-Israel groups
At several points in Clinton’s address, statements she made
supporting Israel were greeted with applause, including her declaration that IDF
soldier Gilad Schalit, captured in 2006 by Hamas-allied gunmen near Gaza, “must
be released immediately and returned to his family” and that “being
pro-Palestinian does not mean you must reject Israel’s right to
She continued on to say that “being pro- Israel does not mean you
must deny the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people,” which similarly
Clinton also decried the “indignity of occupation” and
spoke personally of seeing the difficult situation of Palestinians living in the
West Bank under Israeli military control while on a recent official
“As I looked at the faces of the men and women who came out of
their shops and homes to watch us go by, it was impossible to forget the painful
history of a people who have never had a state of their own,” she said. “For
most Americans, it is hard, if not impossible, to imagine living behind
checkpoints and roadblocks, without the comforts of peace or the confidence of