Clinton to push for Palestinian statehood

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged on Tuesday to press for Palestinian statehood, putting Washington on a possible collision course with Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu, whom Clinton was to meet later in the day, has spoken of Palestinian self-government but has shied away from saying he would back a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict — the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Holding talks in Jerusalem after attending a donors’ conference in Egypt for the Gaza Strip, Clinton reaffirmed the Obama administration’s vision of Israeli-Palestinian peace.

”During the conference, I emphasised President [Barack] Obama’s and my commitment to working to achieve a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and our support for the Palestinian Authority,” she said after meeting Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Netanyahu, who clashed often with the US administration when Bill Clinton, the secretary of state’s husband, was in the White House, was tapped by Peres after Israel’s election last month to try to form a government.

He has enough parliamentary support to put together a right-wing government but has been seeking, unsuccessfully so far, to form a middle-of-the-road coalition that could reduce the chances of friction with the US.

Netanyahu supports expansion of existing Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, a policy opposed by Washington and which Palestinians say could deny them a viable state.

”This is a very difficult and complex set of issues,” Clinton said about Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts before her arrival in Jerusalem late on Monday.

Stalled talks
The administration of George Bush was criticised for making efforts in Middle East peacemaking too late. President Obama has said it will be a priority and Clinton pledged to push on ”many fronts” early on.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, revived in late 2007, have stalled over violence, settlement-building and disputes over other core issues such as the future of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.

The Palestinian Authority suspended the negotiations after Israel launched in December a devastating 22-day offensive in the Gaza Strip with the declared aim of halting rocket attacks by militants in the Hamas-ruled enclave.

Peace talks brokered by Bill Clinton broke down in 2000, his final year in office, and a new wave of violence swept the region.

Speaking to reporters after meeting Peres, Hillary Clinton voiced an ”unrelenting commitment to Israel’s security” and said continued rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip must stop.

In Egypt on Monday, she sought to show strong financial support for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and pledged $900-million in US aid, with a third going to help people in Gaza but the bulk aimed at boosting the Western-backed leader.

At the aid conference, Clinton maintained Washington’s tough line against Hamas and was adamant no money would go to the Islamist group, saying it must recognise Israel, renounce violence and sign on to past Israeli-Palestinian agreements if it wanted to come out of isolation.

On Wednesday Clinton visits the West Bank to see Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. In a departure from her predecessor Condoleezza Rice’s more formal style of diplomacy, she plans to address students at a school there. — Reuters

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