At AIPAC conference, Clinton pledges White House commitment to Israel security

New Israeli construction on land claimed by the Palestinians threatens peace efforts and undermines the United States' ability to help end the Arab-Israeli conflict, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told a leading Jewish organization.
By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 22, 2010; 10:29 AM

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday pledged the Obama administration's "unwavering" commitment to Israel's security, including sanctions on Iran that "bite." But she defended White House opposition to Jewish construction in a disputed area of Jerusalem as an essential part of getting peace talks back on track.

Speaking before more than 7,000 delegates to the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee -- which is lobbying furiously against the administration's criticism -- Clinton ticked off numerous ways the Obama administration is committed to Israel's security, and offered the administration's push for peace talks as the ultimate guarantor of Israel's future viability as a democratic state.

"For President Obama, for me, and for this entire administration, our commitment to Israel's security and Israel's future is rock solid, unwavering, enduring and forever," Clinton declared, as delegates stood and cheered.

Clinton said the United States objected to Israel's decision to announce the new construction last week "because we are committed to Israel and its security, which depends on a comprehensive peace . . . determined to keep moving forward along a path that ensures Israel's future as a secure and democratic Jewish state living in peace with its Palestinian neighbors, who can realize their own legitimate aspirations."

Clinton was greeted respectfully, and won applause when she spoke of defending Israel's security, warned of the danger of Iran's nuclear program, and criticized Palestinian incitement.

The crowd was largely silent when she defended the administration's handling of the construction dispute in the past week, though she drew scattered clapping when she said: "This was not about wounded pride. Nor is it a judgment on the final status of Jerusalem, which is an issue to be settled at the negotiating table. This is about getting to the table, creating and protecting an atmosphere of trust around it -- and staying there until the job is done."

The vast crowd did not react as Clinton said: "The status quo is unsustainable for all sides. It promises only more violence and unrealized aspirations. Staying on this course means continuing a conflict that carries tragic human costs."

Howard Kohr, executive director of AIPAC, told the audience before Clinton spoke that it was "dangerous and wrong" to suggest that the U.S.-Israeli relationship should be held hostage to the peace process. He said that "no one issue can be used to detract" from the goal of stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

Kohr earned a standing ovation when he declared, "Jerusalem is not a settlement. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel."

"It is time to set away the past week and pledge to solve problems together," Kohr said. To applause from the delegates, he added that future disputes between the United States and Israel should be "solved privately."

But Clinton argued that new construction in East Jerusalem undermines the cause of peace, especially because the Palestinians also claim it as the site of a future capital.

"New construction in East Jerusalem or the West Bank undermines mutual trust and endangers the proximity talks that are the first step toward the full negotiations that both sides want and need," she said. "It exposes daylight between Israel and the United States that others in the region could hope to exploit."

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