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Clinton meets Abbas and Israel to push peace talks
Sat Oct 31, 2009 3:32pm EDT
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By Andrew Quinn and Jeffrey Heller
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton failed on Saturday to persuade Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to resume talks with Israel, a spokesman for Abbas said, citing Jewish settlements as a stumbling block.
Clinton, ramping up efforts by U.S. President Barack Obama to revive negotiations suspended since December, flew to Israel after seeing Abbas in Abu Dhabi. After meetings in Jerusalem with officials, she was due to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later in the evening.
"There was no breakthrough in the talks," Abbas's spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah told Reuters by telephone from Abu Dhabi.
Abbas told a news conference in the Gulf city that there would be no resumption of negotiations before the halt of Jewish settlement building on land where Palestinians want to establish a state, the official Palestinian news agency WAFA reported.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said as Clinton flew to Tel Aviv: "We have always recognised that settlements is an enormous issue on both sides ... We continue to talk to all of the parties to help them clarify what the details are and help see if we can narrow that gap."
Palestinians have been angered by what they saw as Obama's softening in September of his demand that Israel abide by a 2003 peace "road map" that called for a halt to settlement activity in the occupied West Bank.
After talks with Abbas and Netanyahu in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, Obama urged Israel only to show restraint on the settlement issue.
Netanyahu, who heads a right-leaning government, has rejected a complete cessation of construction in settlements, saying the needs of growing families must be met.
He has said he intends to push on with the construction of 3,000 settler homes under projects already approved, and continue building houses for Jews in East Jerusalem.
Clinton's spokesman denied a suggestion that she had asked Abbas to accept Netanyahu's offer to limit building to those 3,000 new units in return for talks.
Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem in a 1967 war and Palestinians fear that the presence of settlements there would deny them a viable state. Some 500,000 Israelis live in the two areas alongside 2.8 million Palestinians.
Before arriving in Abu Dhabi, Clinton said she would underscore to both sides that Obama was unflagging in his desire to see a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians.
"Obviously, we can't want this more than the parties want it. I mean, that's just the way negotiations are. But the fact that the United States is engaged, and that we are serious about this engagement, is, in and of itself, I think a very positive message," Clinton told the BBC in an interview.
A senior State Department official said Clinton hoped to get a clear picture of where the two sides stand before she meets Arab foreign ministers at a development summit in Morocco next week to try to drum up regional support for peace moves. Continued...
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