Clinton calls PM, slams J'lem plan

Meanwhile, Abbas says talks would have resumed if not for Israel's announcement.

Hillary Clinton 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Hillary Clinton 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday delivered a stinging rebuke to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu over the government's announcement this week of new Jewish housing in east Jerusalem, calling it "a deeply negative signal."
The US State Department said Clinton spoke to Netanyahu by phone for 43 minutes to vent US frustration with Tuesday's announcement that cast a pall over a visit to Israel by US Vice President Joe Biden and endangered the indirect peace talks with the Palestinians that the Obama administration had announced just a day earlier.
Clinton called "to make clear that the United States considered the announcement to be a deeply negative signal about Israel's approach to the bilateral relationship and counter to the spirit of the vice president's trip," department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters.
"The secretary said she could not understand how this happened, particularly in light of the United States' strong commitment to Israel's security and she made clear that the Israeli government needed to demonstrate not just through words but through specific actions that they are committed to this relationship and to the peace process," he said.
Friday's harsh criticism of America's closest Mideast ally and questions about its commitment to the US-Israeli relationship followed equally blunt condemnation of the housing announcement from the White House and Biden himself.
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It also comes ahead of a trip to the region by US Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell and a meeting in Moscow next week of the Quartet of Mideast peacemakers that Clinton will attend. The Quartet — the US, European Union, United Nations and Russia — was expected to release a statement condemning the Israeli announcement later Friday.
The US has long urged both Israel and the Palestinians not to take any steps that could hinder peace talks. Crowley stressed that the United States objected to both the content and timing of the announcement and said Clinton had "reinforced that this action had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process and in America's interests."
Netanyahu has apologized for the timing, though not the substance, of the announcement of the approval of 1,600 new homes for in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo. The international community does not recognize Israel's annexation of east Jerusalem — captured in the 1967 Mideast war — and the Palestinians see that part of the city as their own future capital.
Earlier Friday, an Israeli cabinet minister said the government is moving to amend the country's planning procedures on sensitive political decisions because of the embarrassing diplomatic flap. Netanyahu has said he was not aware the announcement was going to be made during Biden's visit.
The Israeli announcement enraged the Palestinians and Arab states, jeopardizing the proximity talks Mitchell is to mediate. An Arab League advisory committee has already withdrawn its endorsement of the discussions.
In a bid to salvage those negotiations, Mitchell and the top US diplomat for the Middle East, Jeffrey Feltman, called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Arab League chief Amr Moussa and the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates over the past two days, Crowley said.
"We have reached out ... to a range of leaders," he said. "We jointly remain committed to this process, acknowledging that, obviously, it is a difficult environment, given the Israeli statement."
Meanwhile on Friday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he and Tunisia's leader, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, have begun to discuss how the Arab League should respond to an Israeli plan for new construction in Ramat Shlomo.
Speaking during a visit to Tunisia, Abbas said Israel's move "got in the way of" plans to begin US-mediated indirect talks with Israel.
On Thursday, senior Israeli officials assessed that proximity talks with the Palestinians would begin soon. Their words came hours after US Vice President Joe Biden left Israel for Jordan.
According to the officials, Biden – in his speech at Tel AvivUniversity on Thursday – made it obvious that despite the row over theconstruction plans in northeast Jerusalem’s Ramat Shlomo neighborhood,the US was interested in “putting everything back on the rails.”
Biden told Al-Jazeera in an interview taped in Bethlehem on that heexpected that direct negotiations dealing with all the core issueswould begin in about four months.