Clinton looks to break Mideast deadlock

December 10, 2010 12:00 am

, WASHINGTON, Dec 10 – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is holding a flurry of talks to find a new way to break the deadlock in Middle East peace talks following a failed US push for an Israeli settlement freeze.

The chief US diplomat was scheduled to meet in Washington on Friday with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat, Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, US officials said.

These talks follow those she had with Israel\’s chief peace negotiator Yitzhak Molcho from whom she sought "a perspective on the Israeli side of how to move forward," her spokesman Philip Crowley said, without elaborating.

Crowley said Clinton had spoken twice over the telephone on Wednesday with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to encourage him to send Erakat to Washington.

The burst of talks will be capped by an evening speech Clinton will give to the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, outlining new ideas to rescue the Obama administration\’s struggling diplomatic efforts in the region.

Peace talks were thrown into disarray on Tuesday when the United States conceded it had failed in its weeks-long efforts to persuade Israel to renew a freeze on Jewish settlement building in the West Bank.

President Barack Obama had presided over the relaunch of direct talks in Washington in September, only to see them stall within weeks when a settlement moratorium expired and the Palestinians refused to come back to the table.

Although US officials said there was no immediate prospect of direct talks, they said such talks were needed to reach agreement on the core issues, something they said could still be achieved by the original August deadline.

The core issues are Israel\’s security, the borders of a future Palestinian state, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the status of the holy city of Jerusalem, which both sides claim as their capital.

Crowley said Wednesday that Washington still considered settlements in occupied Palestinian land to be illegal, but would now seek means other than a settlement freeze to restart peace talks.

The Palestinians have refused to return to peace talks without a new settlement freeze. They want it not only on the West Bank, but also in east Jerusalem, which they claim as the capital of a future state.

Following talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo, Abbas renewed the Palestinian conditions for peace talks.

Israel\’s former defense minister Shaul Mofaz, a member of the centrist Kadima party who will attend Clinton\’s speech, told reporters in Washington on Thursday that the United States and Israel got off to a wrong start.

"I believe that the freeze was a strategic mistake for both sides," Mofaz said, referring the 10-month Israeli moratorium on settlements that expired in September.

"It was the first time that preconditions were forced into the process. After 10 months of freeze in Jerusalem and the settlements, nothing happened and the issue of the moratorium became the main issue," he said.

Speaking after meeting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York, Ehud Barak said Israel and the Palestinians must move beyond their dispute over settlement construction to find a new "formula" for peace negotiations.

Barak said the two sides had to find "a way that contains both a sense of urgency and a sense of purpose."

The UN chief "emphasized that it was vital to break the current diplomatic stalemate and resume negotiations," his spokesman said in a statement.

Ban expressed new concern at the settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. "He also raised the issue of UN freedom of movement between Jerusalem and the West Bank," Ban\’s spokesman said.

Ban "took positive note" of Israel\’s decision to allow exports from Gaza, "which he sees as essential to revive Gazas economy." The spokesman said he urged Israel to help UN reconstruction work in Gaza.


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