Clinton: Netanyahu responded with 'useful, productive' ideas to defuse crisis

L to R: Former British premier Tony Blair, who is the special envoy for the Middle East Quartet, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton stand for a proup photo at a press conference after talks in Moscow on March 19, 2010. The International Quartet on the Middle East urged Israel to freeze all settlement activity and expressed deep concern about the situation in Gaza, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said.
L to R: Former British premier Tony Blair, who is the special envoy for the Middle East Quartet, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton stand for a proup photo at a press conference after talks in Moscow on March 19, 2010. The International Quartet on the Middle East urged Israel to freeze all settlement activity and expressed deep concern about the situation in Gaza, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said. (Yuri Kadobnov - Getty Images)

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By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 19, 2010; 11:45 PM

MOSCOW--Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday that she had received a "useful and productive" response from Israel after a tense standoff over a housing project threatened to derail plans for Middle East peace talks.

Clinton, speaking after a meeting of Middle East peace mediators in Moscow, did not elaborate on what gestures Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had told her he would make to the Palestinians in hopes of defusing the crisis. But she confirmed statements from administration officials Thursday that the United States would resume its efforts to arrange indirect talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

In a statement read by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the "quartet" of mediators -- from the United States, the United Nations, Russia and the European Union -- condemned Israel's announcement last week that it was planning to build 1,600 new housing units in disputed East Jerusalem. The announcement, coinciding with a goodwill visit to Israel by Vice President Biden, caused the blowup with Washington.

The quartet of mediators said it would monitor the situation in Jerusalem and "keep under consideration additional steps that may be required to address the situation."

The statement amplified the international outrage over the incident, but also put forward high-profile support for the resumption of "proximity" talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Netanyahu has publicly expressed regret over the timing of the housing announcement, but he defended what he calls Israel's right to build in areas of Jerusalem that it annexed after the 1967 war. That annexation is not recognized internationally. Palestinians are seeking to establish East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, and have balked at launching indirect talks with Israel unless the housing project is stopped.

In an angry 45-minute call a week ago, Clinton called on Netanyahu to scrap the housing plan, make positive gestures to the Palestinians and agree to consider the status of Jerusalem during the indirect talks, U.S. officials said. Late Thursday, the Israeli prime minister telephoned Clinton and outlined confidence-building measures Israel was willing to make toward the Palestinians. Both sides have declined to describe the measures publicly.

"What I heard from the prime minister in response to the requests we made was useful and productive, and we are continuing our discussions with him and his government," Clinton said at the news conference in Moscow.

She noted that special envoy George J. Mitchell, who attended Friday's session, would return to the Middle East and meet with Netanyahu. The prime minister is expected to see Clinton during a trip to Washington next week.

Although U.S. officials have indicated they are not yet completely satisfied with Netanyahu's proposals, Clinton put the focus on getting the talks back on track.

"The goal of the quartet, like the goal of the United States government, is to get the proximity talks relaunched," Clinton said, adding that they should begin "as soon as possible."


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