Clinton: New Israeli settlements a ‘set back’ for peace with Palestinians

Posted at 7:40 AM, Dec 01, 2012
and last updated 2012-12-01 07:40:48-05

By Chelsea J. Carter and Bob Kovach, CNN

WASHINGTON (CNN) — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Israel to reconsider plans to build thousands of homes in its occupied territory, saying it will set back efforts to bring about a two-state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Clinton’s comments Friday followed news reports that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu authorized the construction of 3,000 new homes, a move widely viewed as retaliatory after the Palestinians won a United Nations bid to recognize their claim to become a “non-member observer state.”

“In light of today’s announcement, let me reiterate that this administration — like previous administrations — has been very clear with Israel that these activities set back the cause of a negotiated peace,” Clinton said in remarks delivered at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington.

Netanyahu has not publicly acknowledged the approval of the new construction — details of which were reported by a number of Israeli news organizations, citing unnamed senior government officials.

Clinton did not refer to any specific settlement in her remarks, though published reports have said among the West Bank areas being zoned is a four square-mile area east of Jerusalem. The Obama administration has repeatedly warned Israel against settling the West Bank, particularly that plot of land, because it would make it impossible to create a contiguous Palestinian State.

Israel seized the West Bank, Gaza, Golan Heights and Sinai Peninsula during the 1967 war. The Sinai has since been returned to Egypt. Israel annexed the Golan Heights in 1981, a move not recognized by the international community and condemned by Syria, which still claims the land.

The more militant Palestinian group Hamas now controls Gaza, while the moderate group Fatah — headed by President Mahmoud Abbas — administers the West Bank, site of a growing number of Israeli settlements.

Ultimately, the Palestinians are aiming to unite Gaza and the West Bank under the authority of a new state with the capital of East Jerusalem.

The United States was opposed to Palestinian efforts to gain recognition by the United Nations as a “non-member state,” warning that such a move might cause Israel to react.

“Palestinian leaders need to ask themselves what unilateral action can really accomplish for their people. President Abbas took a step in the wrong direction this week, to say the least. We opposed his resolution,” Clinton said.

“But we also need to see that the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank still offers the most compelling alternative to rockets and permanent resistance. At a time when religious extremists claim to offer rewards in the hereafter, Israel needs to help those committed to peace to deliver for their people in the here and now.”

Palestinian officials have refused to enter into new talks with Israel until it stops building settlements on West Bank land. Netanyahu, meanwhile, has said there can be no preconditions on talks.

The Palestinian bid to the United Nations and news of Israeli settlement construction came just days after a cease-fire took hold between Israel and Hamas that brought about an end to a series of Israeli military airstrikes against Gaza launched in an effort to stop Hamas rocket attacks.

Clinton called on Egypt to use its “unique relationship” with Hamas to make clear it opposes any escalation of tensions.

“We look to Egypt to intensify its efforts to crack down on weapons smuggling from Libya and Sudan into Gaza—and I am concerned that, if more rockets are allowed to enter Gaza through the tunnels, that will pave the way to more fighting again soon,” she said.

CNN’s Bob Kovach reported from Washington, and CNN’s Chelsea J. Carter reported from Atlanta.