Clinton criticizes Israel’s E1 construction plan

White House says Israel construction plan in Jerusalem, West Bank "makes it harder to resume direct talks, achieve a 2-state solution."

White House 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed)
White House 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed)
WASHINGTON – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized Israel’s plans for more settlement construction Friday and called on Jerusalem to bolster the Palestinian Authority, even as she disagreed with the Palestinians’ decision to seek unilateral recognition at the UN.
“These activities set back the cause of a negotiated peace,” she said of Friday’s announcement that Israel had approved the construction of 3,000 housing units in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Similarly, she called Thursday’s vote at the UN recognizing the Palestinians as a nonmember state “a step that will not bring us any closer to peace” and the PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who requested this status, “took a step in the wrong direction this week.”
She added, however, that “we also need to see that the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank still offers the most compelling alternative to rockets and permanent resistance.”
And she stressed, “We have to convince Palestinians that direct negotiations with Israel represent not just the best but the only path to the independent state they deserve.”
To that end, Clinton argued that “the more generous Israel can be” in expediting tax revenues to the PA, providing investment for business and other moves to give Palestinians in the West Bank the sense that they have a stake in the future “helps provide a bulwark for Israel’s security, whether or not there is a comprehensive agreement in the near future.”
But she said it was also important to keep seeking a deal.
“It gives Israel a moral high ground that I want Israel to occupy,” she said to applause from the audience Friday night gathered at the Saban Forum.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni, Ehud Olmert and other Israel political leaders were in attendance.
Clinton stressed that she felt Israelis “have good grounds to be suspicious” and made several allusions to opportunities Palestinians missed for statehood.
“The Palestinians could have had a state as old as I am if they had made the right decision in 1947,” she said, also referring to the frustration of not seeing the Palestinians come to the negotiating table until the last month of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s “unprecedented” 10-month settlement freeze.
But she also pointed to missed chances by Israelis as well, and added that she was not making excuses for “the lack of generosity, the lack of empathy that I think goes hand-in-hand with the suspicion.”
She continued, “The Israelis need to really demonstrate that they do understand the pain of an oppressed people.”
Clinton also used her appearance to highlight America’s support for Israel during the recent hostilities in Gaza.
“For years we have told you, our Israeli friends, that America has Israel’s back. And this month, we proved it again,” she said to applause. “The world knows – and always will know – that whenever Israel is threatened, the United States will be there.”
Now, she said, the US is working with Egypt to communicate to Hamas the danger of re-escalating and urging Cairo to do more to stop weapons smuggling into the Gaza strip.
“We look to Egypt to intensify its efforts to crack down on weapon smuggling from Libya and Sudan into Gaza,” she said, warning that another round of fighting would soon break out if more weapons enter the coastal strip from Sinai. “We are ready to help and to support Egyptian efforts to bring security and economic development to the Sinai.”
Liberman preceded Clinton to the podium, and took a very different view of Abbas and the PA.
He made a series of blistering comments about Abbas, speaking of his “failure” on domestic issues which prompted him to seek an achievement at the UN.
“Hamas is more effective and has more political will and determination than Abbas,” Liberman said.
He contended that the Palestinian issue would be solved when per capita income in the territories rose, saying that economic issues were the major underlying problem.
Liberman also labeled the UN vote “hypocrisy” as the international body has declined to take action on Syria, where tens of thousands are dying.
And he defended Israel’s settlement activity.
“We’re not trying to provoke” he said of the additional construction. It’s “our right to define our capital.”