Clinton says deal is possible on settlements in West Bank
SHANNON, Ireland — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that she believed that the Israelis and Palestinians could work out a deal on Jewish settlements, leaving open the possibility that their fledgling peace talks could go forward even without an extension of Israel’s moratorium on settlement construction.
Speaking to reporters during her flight to Sharm el Sheik, the Egyptian resort where talks will resume Tuesday, Clinton also repeated President Barack Obama’s call for Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to extend the moratorium, scheduled to expire Sept. 26. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has threatened to quit the negotiations if the temporary ban is not extended.
On Sunday, Netanyahu offered a hint of flexibility, saying that while Israel would not extend the moratorium, it would not build the tens of thousands of housing units that are in the planning pipeline. Clinton suggested that gestures by the Palestinians, especially on security issues, could give Netanyahu the leverage he needed to sell a compromise to his domestic audience. She declined to offer proposals, saying it was up to the two sides to come up with compromises.
Palestinian leaders reacted coolly Monday to Netanyahu’s overture, making it clear that no understanding had been reached. Nabil Shaath, a senior Palestinian negotiator, said that a plethora of statements from Netanyahu and others were “confusing,” and that the Palestinians were waiting to see the Israeli prime minister in Sharm el Sheik.
Netanyahu faced growing pressure from the settlers’ leaders. The Yesha Council, the West Bank settlers’ umbrella organization, said in a statement Monday that any continuation of the construction freeze, which began in November, would lead to “severe political instability within Israel and the ultimate collapse of the current government.”
Clinton is scheduled to meet Tuesday with Netanyahu and Abbas for a round of negotiations hosted by the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak. The next day, the talks will move to Jerusalem, and Thursday Clinton will travel to Ramallah in the West Bank to meet again with Abbas, before driving to Jordan’s capital, Amman, where she is scheduled to have lunch with King Abdullah II.
Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls Gaza, virulently opposes the peace talks. Its military wing claimed responsibility for two shooting attacks on settlers’ cars two weeks ago. Four Israeli civilians were killed in the first attack.