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(photo credit: AP)
WASHINGTON — Frustrated by more than a year of intense but failed diplomatic efforts to get Israel and the Palestinians to restart stalled peace negotiations, the Obama administration is turning up pressure on both sides to get them talking again.
In a speech marking the opening a new Middle East think tank Thursday, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged both parties to prove they are committed to reaching a resolution of the conflict.
She also urged Israeli and Palestinian leaders to take risks for peace and warned that failing to do so would destabilize the region with tragic costs.Related:'Strategic ties vital to US and Israel'
Her comments came just two days after US President Barack Obama delivered a surprisingly downbeat assessment of the prospects for a US-brokered peace agreement, saying the United States cannot help if Israel and the Palestinians decide they cannot negotiate.
Clinton also warned both sides that they had to work harder toward compromise.
"Israelis and Palestinians alike must confront the reality that the status quo has not produced long-term security or served their interests, and accept their share of responsibility for reaching a comprehensive peace that will benefit both sides," Clinton said at the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace.
She said the Palestinians had to do more to end incitement and violence, crack down on corruption and stop using international organizations like the United Nations as a forum for inflammatory anti-Israel rhetoric. She urged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to agree to new talks with Israel.
At the same time she said Israel must "be a responsible partner" and "do more to support the Palestinian Authority's efforts to build credible institutions and deliver results to their people."
"Israelis must see, too, that pursuing the path of progress and diplomacy can and will lead to peace and security," Clinton said. She added that she was concerned that some Israelis appeared unwilling to contemplate a peace agreement, particularly at a time when violence is down and security conditions look better.
"As a result, some in Israel have come to believe that, protected by walls and buoyed by a dynamic economy, they can avoid having to do anything right now," she said.
"But that would mean continuing an impasse that carries tragic human costs, denies Palestinians their legitimate aspirations, and threatens Israel's long-term future as a secure and democratic Jewish state."
Clinton's speech followed Obama's pessimistic assessment delivered on Tuesday at the conclusion of a Nuclear Security Summit he hosted in Washington.
The two sides "may say to themselves, 'We are not prepared to resolve these issues no matter how much pressure the United States brings to bear,'" Obama said. Peace is a vital goal, he said, but one that may be beyond reach "even if we are applying all of our political capital."
The United States is pushing for new Israeli-Palestinian talks in which the US would be a go-between. Previous talks broke off more than a year ago, and despite shuttle diplomacy and unusual pressure on ally Israel, the Obama administration has been unable to reach even the modest goal of indirect talks that it had hoped would start last month.
Those talks have been on hold since Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's government announced the construction of new Jewish housing in east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as the capital of a future state.
The administration sharply criticized the announcement, which came during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden, saying the construction plans hindered efforts to get talks back on track and damaged US credibility as a peace broker.
Since the announcement, the Obama administration has postponed sending special Middle East envoy George Mitchell back to the region.
The housing announcement precipitated the worst crisis in US-Israeli relations in years. Netanyahu acknowledged last week that the US and Israel still have not ironed out their differences over construction in east Jerusalem.
The prime minister said both countries are still working to find a
solution, but he defended his government's plans for new housing in the
city, noting that it was in line with a long-standing Israeli policy.
administration's strong criticism of its top Middle East ally has
alarmed many of Israel's supporters in the United States, particularly
in Congress where there have been bipartisan calls to ease tensions.
officials have said that despite the furor, the US-Israeli relationship
is solid, and the US commitment to Israel's defense is unwavering.