Last Updated: Wed Nov 03, 2010 12:54 pm (KSA) 09:54 am (GMT)

Clinton offers US aid to help boost Muslim ties

Clinton urged Israel, the Palestinians and Arab countries to move beyond recrimination in the search for peace
Clinton urged Israel, the Palestinians and Arab countries to move beyond recrimination in the search for peace

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered aid on Tuesday to boost ties with the Muslim world and urged Israel, the Palestinians and Arab countries to move beyond recrimination in the search for peace.

"We are determined and persistent in the pursuit of that goal," she said in a speech at a development forum in Morocco attended by Arab ministers.

After a weekend of heated words about the perceived U.S. tilt toward Israel on the issue of settlements on the occupied West Bank, Clinton said it was important for all sides to "be careful about what we say" and avoid angry rhetoric.

"We need to work together in a constructive spirit toward this shared goal of a comprehensive peace. I believe very strongly that it is attainable ... (and) that with your support we can find a way through."

Building on Obama’s promise

 We are committed to building ladders of opportunity to help develop the enormous talent that resides in the people of this region 
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Clinton's speech unveiled a modest new set of aid proposals aimed at building on President Barack Obama's promise in a June address in Cairo to make a "new beginning" on Washington's strained ties with the Islamic world.

But it came after Clinton sparked a new outburst of Arab anger by praising Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's offer of "restraint" on settlements without repeating earlier U.S. calls for a freeze on them, which is the Palestinian position.

Clinton repeated that the United States is committed to reaching a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians, saying this was a key to achieving a peaceful and prosperous future for the region.

Hoping to cast the United States as a helpful partner in development for Muslim communities, Clinton outlined a series of small steps to increase funding for civil society groups, youth empowerment and job promotion.

"We are committed to building ladders of opportunity to help develop the enormous talent that resides in the people of this region," she said.

The programs Clinton announced on Tuesday include a $76 million project to boost economic opportunities in Yemen, a $30 million project for vulnerable young people in Jordan and an entrepreneurship summit in Washington next year to bring Muslim innovators together with U.S. business leaders.

Taken together the new package pales in comparison to the billions of dollars in aid that Washington extends to governments in the region, including both Israel and Egypt.

"Unprecedented" steps

Jewish settlement of Ariel in the occupied West Bank

Clinton extended her regional trip to include Cairo on Tuesday after she was criticised for praising as "unprecedented" steps that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would take to limit settlement growth, steps that fall far short of previous U.S. demands for a complete halt to all settlement activity.

She also called for an immediate resumption of peace talks that were suspended during the Gaza war at the turn of the year, despite the Palestinian insistence that Israel freeze settlement activity first.

Clinton later clarified her comments to say that Washington still considers the settlements to be illegal and on Monday praised efforts by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to improve security, calling on Israel to reciprocate.

A U.S. State Department official said the stopover in Cairo was considered important because "Egypt was always a key player in the peace process," denying it was aimed at damage control.

Backtracking

Israel savored a victory after U.S. Secretary of State Clinton hailed its position on settlements

The settlements in the occupied West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in 1967, are home to nearly 500,000 Israelis and are considered illegal by the international community.

Arab officials accused President Barack Obama's administration of backtracking after it had earlier this year called for a complete end to settlement building in the West Bank and said Clinton's clarifications did not go far enough.

"Clinton's backtracking on her remarks, especially with regard to the partial freeze of settlements, is not sufficient to restart negotiations with Israel," Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina told AFP.

Rudeina adopted a harder line than PA Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki, who said on Monday that he was satisfied by Clinton's amendment, in which she again repeated that Israel's offer was "unprecedented" if implemented, though adding that it was "not enough."

Although Washington had said it did not consider a settlement freeze a precondition for the resumption of peace talks, Clinton's comments appeared to place the onus for its effort's success on Abbas.

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