Clinton expresses determination to resolve Israeli-Palestinian conflict

"We cannot give up on peace," she tells confirmation hearing.

clinton 248 88 ap (photo credit: )
clinton 248 88 ap
(photo credit: )
Recalling the many failed attempts - including her husband's - to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, US Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton declared during her confirmation hearings Tuesday that "we cannot give up on peace." Speaking to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which must approve her nomination, Clinton stressed that US President-elect Barack Obama and she herself "understand and are deeply sympathetic to Israel's desire to defend itself under the current conditions, and to be free of shelling by Hamas rockets." She added that the current conflict served as a reminder of the "tragic humanitarian costs" and described herself as "pained by the suffering of Palestinian and Israeli civilians." Despite the unsuccessful efforts by previous American leaders, including former president Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton said that these current realities "must only increase our determination to seek a just and lasting peace agreement." In response to the humanitarian crisis faced by Palestinians, the US State Department today announced a donors' conference to raise funds for their needs. The conference is to be hosted by the Czech Republic, which holds the rotating EU presidency. After Clinton's introductory remarks, which included her comments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, her first question from the new chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, focused on Iran and its nuclear ambitions. "Our goal will be to do everything we can to pursue, through diplomacy, through the use of sanctions, through creating better coalitions with countries that we believe also have a big stake in preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear-weapon power, to try to prevent this from occurring," she said of the incoming administration's policy on Iran. "We are not taking any option off the table at all, but we will pursue a new, perhaps different approach that will become a cornerstone of what the Obama administration believes is an attitude toward engagement that might bear fruit." But, she continued, "We have no illusions, Mr. Chairman, that even with a new administration, looking to try to engage Iran in a way that might influence its behavior, that we can predict the results." Clinton would not discuss what type of contacts the Obama administration might hold with Teheran - including whether she herself would participate - saying the policy options are still being reviewed. But when pressed on her attitude toward an Iranian nuclear weapon, she stressed, "The president-elect has been very clear that it is unacceptable and that is our premise and that is what we are going to be basing our actions on." When asked about engagement with the Palestinians, Clinton upheld the Middle East Quartet's three demands as "absolute" before any talks could be held with the Islamist group. "You cannot negotiate with Hamas until it renounces violence, recognizes Israel and agrees to abide by past agreements," she said. "That is the United States government's position. That is the president-elect's position." Her comments on Israel and Hamas were some of the few to elicit audience reaction, as a handful of protesters held signs calling for a cease-fire in Gaza. During a break in the hearing, which was still continuing at press time, the demonstrators became louder, calling on Clinton to speak up for the people of Gaza. Clinton was testifying in a packed committee room, where congressional staff, diplomats and Middle East experts filled the public seating, while Clinton herself was backed by aides and her daughter, Chelsea. Bill Clinton was watching in another location, but his presence was felt throughout the hearing as senators, most of them Republican, mentioned the potential conflict of interest arising from foreign donations to his global works foundation. As part of the process clearing the way for Clinton to become secretary of state, the Clinton Foundation agreed to release a list of donors and to reject any gifts from foreign governments. In the past, the government of Saudi Arabia gave between $10 million and $25m., while Qatar and Kuwait each gave between $1m. and $5m. Private donors include Israeli-American billionaire Haim Saban and the Soros Foundation. Some feel that the agreement doesn't go far enough, and ranking Republican committee member Richard Lugar proposed additional requirements. Halfway through the confirmation hearings, however, Clinton had been challenged directly on the donations few times during a largely cordial and positive session. At one juncture she was asked more pointedly by Louisiana Senator David Vitter if the foundation would refuse all donations from foreigners. She defended the current arrangement as carefully considered and going well beyond the legal reporting requirements. During her testimony, Clinton also staked out a broad vision of her role and the approach of the new administration to diplomacy, emphasizing the importance of diplomacy, working with other countries and "soft power." She mentioned her intention to work with the United Nations whenever possible, though she noted that military force would sometimes be necessary. "One needs only look to North Korea, Iran, the Middle East and the Balkans to appreciate the absolute necessity of tough-minded, intelligent diplomacy," she said. "The president-elect and I believe that foreign policy must be based on a marriage of principles and pragmatism, not rigid ideology."