The Palestinian leadership today accused the United States of “back-peddling” on the key issue of Israeli settlement growth in the West Bank after Hillary Clinton, the visiting Secretary of State, suddenly praised Israel’s prime minister for making “unprecedented” concessions on the issue.
“The negotiations are in a state of paralysis and the result of Israel’s intransigence and America’s back-peddling is that there is no hope of negotiations on the horizon,” said Nabil Abu Rudeinah, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Having signally failed to force Israel to meet US demands for a total settlement freeze, Mrs Clinton abruptly switched tack during a one-day visit to Jerusalem this weekend when she called on both sides to swiftly resume long-stalled peace talks.
“What the prime minister has offered in specifics of a restraint on the policy of settlements… is unprecedented,” Clinton said. Even under the hopeful days of the Oslo peace talks in the 1990s, Israel never halted the expansion of the large settlement community, which only suffered its first serious reversal in 2005, when then prime minister Ariel Sharon forced thousands of settlers to leave the Gaza Strip.
Mrs Clinton’s comments appeared to mark a shift away from pressuring Israel to halt all settlement construction ahead of renewing negotiations and she herself stressed that such a step had never been an American pre-condition to resuming talks.
Binyamin Netanyahu, the right-wing Israeli prime minister, has refused to halt all growth, saying that the nearly half-million settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem cannot be expected not to build new facilities as their communities expand.
My initial take was that perhaps Hillary was going rogue, but the LA Times reminds us that this is yet another Obama flip flop, one begun in September:
President Obama called last spring for a freeze but, in the face of Israeli resistance, changed course. To the dismay of Palestinian leaders, Obama demanded only “restraint” on settlements when he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas in September.
A sliver of foreign policy competence in what to date has been anything but.
Truly change to believe in and to bring hope.