Clinton meets Israeli, Palestinian peace envoys

By Andrew Quinn

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held separate meetings with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators on Monday as the United States seeks to find a way to revive moribund peace talks.

Clinton also met visiting French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe — who launched a separate bid to start talks — but said it was too early to consider a proposed Paris conference because neither side appeared willing to talk despite a looming September showdown over Palestinian statehood at the United Nations.

“We strongly support a return to negotiations, but we do not think that it would be productive for there to be a conference about returning to negotiations,” Clinton told reporters.

“There has to be a return to negotiations, which will take a lot of persuasion and preliminary work in order to set up a productive meeting between the parties,” she said, adding that Washington was in a “wait-and-see” attitude.

Clinton’s meetings with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and his Israeli counterpart Yitzhak Molcho came amid mounting concern over the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, which remains deadlocked despite the wave of political change sweeping the Arab world.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said he intends to seek U.N. recognition of Palestinian statehood at the U.N. General Assembly meeting in September — a move which both Israel and the United States say will only inflame tensions.

Juppe said his offer last week to host talks between the two sides in Paris was based on concerns that that situation could spin out of control if September arrives and no peace talks are under way.

“We have the feeling if nothing happens before September, the situation will be very difficult for everybody,” he told reporters.


President Barack Obama presided over the resumption of direct peace talks between the two sides in September, but the effort collapsed almost immediately over Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank.

Obama has said he believed it was possible to get a framework deal for peace within a year, and last month sought to accelerate the momentum by proposing that the two sides discuss terms based on the borders that existed in before the 1967 war in which Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, along with agreed territorial swaps.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who leads a coalition dominated by pro-settler parties, swiftly rejected the plan as unworkable.

The faltering effort has been further strained by a recent Palestinian political unity deal between President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement and the rival Islamist Hamas, which controls Gaza and remains sworn to Israel’s destruction.

While the Palestinians say the planned unity government will be technocratic with no direct role for Hamas, both Israeli and U.S. leaders have said peace talks are not possible unless Hamas explicitly recognizes Israel’s right to exist and renounces violence.

Clinton said on Tuesday those concerns remained.

“It is not enough for us that it would be called technocratic,” she said. “If Hamas is involved we think that undermines the whole purpose of negotiations because we would have a party that rejects Israel’s right to exist.”

Erekat, speaking after his meeting with Clinton, said he had sought to address U.S. concerns over Hamas — but repeated that Palestinians must achieve political reconciliation if they are to meet their goal of forming an independent state.

“This is not a power-sharing government,” Erekat said. “This will be a government for elections, and reconstruction of Gaza, and a government that runs Abbas’ program,” he said.

He said the Palestinians remained firm in their intention to seek U.N. recognition, and warned that failure to move toward statehood could throw a question mark over the future viability of Abbas’ Palestinian Authority.