Last Updated: Sun Oct 17, 2010 00:34 am (KSA) 21:34 pm (GMT)

Clinton warns Israel over new settlement homes

Israel is planning 1,600 new settler homes in Arab East Jerusalem (File)
Israel is planning 1,600 new settler homes in Arab East Jerusalem (File)

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has rebuked Israel for plans to build new settler homes, saying it sent a "deeply negative signal" about Israel's ties to its top ally.

In unusually harsh words, Clinton told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington strongly objected to the announcement made during a landmark trip to Israel by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

"The United States considered the announcement a deeply negative signal about Israel's approach to the bilateral relationship," the top U.S. diplomat told Netanyahu in an early Friday morning telephone call.

 The United States considered the announcement a deeply negative signal about Israel's approach to the bilateral relationship 
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

The "quartet" of Middle East peace mediators -- the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia -- issued its own condemnation on Friday of the settlement plan and said it would assess the situation at a previously scheduled meeting in Moscow next week.

The Quartet said that unilateral actions taken by either party to the Middle East peace process "will not be recognized by the international community."

“Insulting”

 The announcement of the settlements, the very day that the vice president was there, was insulting 
Clinton

Clinton heaped further scorn on the Jewish state's announcement after speaking with Netanyahu.

"The announcement of the settlements, the very day that the vice president was there, was insulting," she told CNN in an interview.

"I mean, it was really just an unfortunate and difficult moment for everyone."

It was an unusually strong rebuke from the United States for its main regional ally, and almost unprecedented in decades of strong ties.

In June 1990, secretary of state James Baker, frustrated by the intransigence of Israel's then-prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, told the Israelis: "When you're serious about peace, call us."

But while today's frustration also stems from the stalemated Middle East peace process, the political landscape is completely different, analysts said.

"Clinton and Biden are very close friends to Israel. Bush and Baker weren't so close," the analyst said, asking to remain anonymous, referring to the former president George H.W. Bush.

A member of Clinton's close entourage said she was clearly "frustrated" by the announcement which came just as the U.S. was hoping to coax the two sides back to the negotiating table.

1,600 new settler homes

 We accept what Prime Minister Netanyahu has said. By the same token, he is the head of the Israeli government and ultimately is responsible for the actions of that government 
State Department spokesman Philip Crowley

The Israeli interior ministry announced Tuesday during Biden's visit that 1,600 new settler homes would be built in predominantly Arab east Jerusalem triggering swift fury among Arab and Palestinian leaders.

Clinton told Netanyahu that "she could not understand how this happened particularly in light of the U.S. strong interest in Israel's security," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters.

The announcement infuriated the West Bank-based Palestinian leadership, which threatened to pull out of U.S.-brokered indirect "proximity" talks with Israel that Washington hoped would be the first step toward relaunching full peace negotiations after more than a year.

Netanyahu, who is due to address the powerful pro-Israeli American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual conference in Washington from March 21-23, has apologized for the timing of the announcement.

The Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their promised state while Israel, which seized it in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it in a move not recognized by the international community, considers the city its eternal and indivisible capital.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said earlier he would not enter into any negotiations with Israel until the Jerusalem settlement project was frozen, while the Arab League withdrew its support for indirect talks.

Crowley acknowledged that top U.S. regional envoys George Mitchell and Jeffrey Feltman had spent the past 24 hours calling Arab leaders in a bid to keep the peace talks on track.

Crowley also made it clear that while Washington accepted Netanyahu's apology, they held him accountable.

"We accept what Prime Minister Netanyahu has said. By the same token, he is the head of the Israeli government and ultimately is responsible for the actions of that government," Crowley said.

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