US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged Palestinians and Israelis to resume peace talks “without preconditions,” backing Palestinian aims for a state along the 1967 boundaries.
However, trying to revive Obama administration diplomacy that fell flat last year, Clinton said the lines would be modified through mutually agreed land swaps, presumably to account for some Israeli settlements that would remain.
Flanked by Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, Clinton urged the Palestinians to try to stop settlement building through negotiations on core issues rather than conditioning the resumption of talks on a total freeze.
“As Minister Judeh and I discussed earlier, resolving borders resolves settlements. Resolving Jerusalem resolves settlements,” the chief US diplomat told reporters.
“We are working with the Israelis, the (Palestinian Authority), and the Arab states to take the steps needed to relaunch the negotiations as soon as possible and without preconditions,” Clinton said.
The parties can reach a solution that “reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders,” she said.
Clinton was referring to the boundaries existing before the Arab-Israeli war in 1967, moving in the direction of Palestinian demands for a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with east Jerusalem as its capital.
The United States says the status of Jerusalem, all of which Israel claims as its capital, and the exact boundaries of a future state must be determined through negotiations.
In her opening remarks, Clinton also said both Washington and Amman were “concerned about recent activities in Jerusalem,” echoing their opposition to new Jewish settlement building in annexed Arab east Jerusalem.
Clinton and Judeh both alluded to a two-year timeline for negotiations mentioned in a television interview Wednesday by US envoy George Mitchell, whom the Jordanian met here Friday, though Judeh was more explicit.
“We agreed on the need to relaunch serious negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis, negotiations that are bound by a timeline and a clear plan,” Judeh said.
On Monday, Israel’s Maariv newspaper said Washington was pushing a plan to restart peace talks that foresees reaching a final deal in two years and agreeing on permanent borders in nine months.
Clinton and Mitchell also met with both Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit, who spoke of trying to “regenerate energy” for peace, and intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.
Egypt and Jordan are the key Arab mediators as the only Arab countries to have made peace with Israel.
The US initiative will continue when Mitchell leaves Sunday for Paris and Brussels for consultations with allies and more members of the quartet made up of the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia.
US officials said Friday that Mitchell already met in the last few days with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Mitchell is due to return to the United States before heading to the Middle East by the end of the month.
Days after entering the White House in January last year, President Barack Obama signalled that Arab-Israeli peace was a top priority.
But the effort stalled as Arab nations accused the administration of reneging on its demand that hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government completely freeze Jewish settlement construction.
“This is a year of renewed commitment and increased effort toward what we see as an imperative goal for the region of the world,” Clinton said.
Both Clinton and Judeh underlined how Middle East peace would blunt terrorism.