United States, Israel tone down spat

Clinton calls conversation with Netanyahu "useful and productive."

March 21, 2010 02:54
4 minute read.
Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Hillary Clinton 58. (photo credit: Associated Press)


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WASHINGTON – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday called her conversation with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu the day before “useful and productive” as the two countries continued to dial down the rhetoric.

Clinton, speaking at a press conference convened at the Quartet meeting in Moscow pushing for progress in the Middle East peace process, declined to discuss the details of the call, but said that “we are continuing our discussions with him and his government.”

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It came a week after Clinton placed another call to Netanyahu demanding that Israel take specific steps to show its commitment to peace – after an Interior Ministry committee’s approval of new homes in east Jerusalem derailed a visit to Israel by US Vice President Joe Biden that week and set back plans to launch indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Following Clinton’s conversation with the prime minister on Thursday night, the Obama administration used some of its most positive language since the diplomatic flap erupted, in a suggestion that the two countries had found a channel for patching up the disagreement.

“We’re happy, but it’s an ongoing conversation,” a White House official told The Jerusalem Post, also declining to offer details on what Netanyahu had said in response to the administration’s demands.

Clinton will be meeting with Netanyahu and following up on the matter when the latter comes to Washington this Monday and Tuesday to address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference.

The White House official said as of late Friday that no meeting between President Barack Obama and Netanyahu had been scheduled, but did not rule out one being added. Obama was originally planning to be overseas during Netanyahu’s visit, but canceled his trip to try to push his signature health care legislation through Congress before its spring recess, with the issue due to dominate his schedule next week.

In Israel, neither the Foreign Ministry nor the Prime Minister’s Office would say whether Netanyahu’s itinerary included a meeting with Obama.

Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said on Saturday that the diplomatic crisis between Jerusalem and Washington had been “amplified in the media in order to improve the status of the United States as an honest broker in the region.”

According to Ayalon, the crisis “has not harmed the historic alliance between the United States and Israel.”

Ayalon said he believed “construction in Jerusalem would not be frozen. It hasn’t been frozen in the past 42 years. However, we may have to have better oversight and coordination.

“Israel has taken many trust-building steps, so [international] pressure should be on the Palestinians, who have only become more rigid in their positions,” he added.

Clinton’s comments Thursday came after the Quartet of the US, EU, UN and Russia together crafted a statement condemning the housing project in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood and calling for progress on indirect talks to pave the way for creating a Palestinian state within two years.

“The proximity talks are an important step toward the resumption, without preconditions, of direct bilateral negotiations that resolve all final-status issues as previously agreed by the parties,” the Quartet statement reads.

Israel has long embraced direct talks, but Palestinians have rejected the notion, only agreeing in recent weeks to indirect talks, which have they have stalled since the Biden visit.

Ayalon said the Quartet’s call for direct negotiations without preconditions “was a victory for the Israeli government’s position.”

The statement continues: “The Quartet believes these negotiations should lead to a settlement, negotiated between the parties within 24 months, that ends the occupation which began in 1967 and results in the emergence of an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbors.”

The Quartet text also urges Israel to “to freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth, to dismantle outposts erected since March 2001, and to refrain from demolitions and evictions in east Jerusalem,” and for both sides to “refrain from provocative actions and inflammatory rhetoric, especially in areas of cultural and religious sensitivity.”

In addition, it notes “the significant progress on security achieved by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank” and calls on the PA “to continue to make every effort to improve law and order, to fight violent extremism and to end incitement.”

At the Quartet press conference, Clinton spoke positively of the US-Israeli relationship, saying, “It is deep and broad. It is strong and enduring.”

Asked separately in a TV interview whether she felt that Netanyahu was a partner for peace with his current coalition, she responded, “I do. I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu is committed to the two-state solution, as he himself has stated,” adding, “I anticipate that we will have a very active and engaged partner.”

She denied suggestions that the Obama administration would like to see Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition fall. “We are not taking any position, and have no particular stake in who the Israeli people choose to govern them. That is – they’re a democracy. They get to make those choices.”

Clinton also defended the administration for pushing Israel with tough talk last week, saying, “I think we’re going to see the resumption of the negotiation track, and that means that it is paying off, because that’s our goal.”

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