By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 24, 2009
Progress on establishing a Palestinian state must go "hand-in-hand" with efforts to stem Iranian influence in the Middle East, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said yesterday, implicitly rejecting the emerging position of the new Israeli government.
Aides to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said this week that the Israeli government will not move ahead on the core issues of peace talks with the Palestinians until it sees progress in U.S. efforts to stop Iran's suspected pursuit of a nuclear weapon and limit Tehran's rising influence in the region. Netanyahu, who is skeptical of efforts to create a Palestinian state, plans to visit Washington next month; aides said he was preparing to outline his emerging policy to President Obama.
Asked about those comments during an appearance before a panel of the House Appropriations Committee, Clinton said she did not want to "prejudge the Israeli position until we've had face-to-face talks." But she then cautioned that Israel was unlikely to gain support for thwarting Iran unless there were visible efforts to achieve Palestinian statehood.
"For Israel to get the kind of strong support it's looking for vis-a-vis Iran it can't stay on the sideline with respect to the Palestinian and the peace efforts, that they go hand-in-hand," Clinton said.
Clinton noted that every Arab official she has met with "wants very much to support the strongest possible policy toward Iran." But, she said, "they believe that Israel's willingness to reenter into discussions with the Palestinian Authority strengthens them in being able to deal with Iran."
She said the Obama administration was seeking to coordinate the Arab and Israeli positions so the unusual dynamic of unity on Iran could be exploited. "We have to sort of get everybody together in one place, which hasn't yet happened, to figure out how that can proceed," she said.
Clinton took flak from some lawmakers about the administration's efforts to keep its options open regarding the creation of a Palestinian unity government. The government is split between Fatah, which controls the West Bank, and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. Hamas, which the State Department considers a terrorist group, won Palestinian legislative elections in 2006, but the United States has refused to deal with the group until it meets conditions, including recognition of Israel.
Clinton indicated that if a unity government is formed, the administration would be willing to deal with that government, even if it contained Hamas ministers, as long as the government agreed to those conditions, much as the United States currently deals with the elected Lebanese government in which the militant group Hezbollah controls 11 out of 30 cabinet seats. But several lawmakers, including Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), chair of the foreign operations subcommittee, and Rep. Mark Steven Kirk (R-Ill.) indicated that the House may seek to restrict aid to the Palestinian Authority, which would limit the administration's flexibility.