Israel and the Palestinians need to resolve a dispute over the expiry of an Israeli moratorium on West Bank settlement construction that threatens to scupper their nascent direct peace talks, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday.
Speaking as she flew to Egypt for a second round of direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Clinton said the two sides would get “down to business” and she repeated the U.S. view that Israel should extend its moratorium on new settlement construction in the West Bank.
She also sought to counter widespread pessimism over the first direct peace talks after a 20-month hiatus, given the political divisions in Israel and among the Palestinians.
“For me, this is a simple choice: no negotiations, no security, no state,” Clinton said as she began her journey to the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where the talks will take place on Tuesday.
“There is no prospect for success in the absence of direct negotiations,” she added.
Clinton is to meet separately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Sharm el-Sheikh before holding a three-way meeting. She will hold another three-way meeting in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
The U.S.-brokered direct talks, which resumed in Washington on Sept. 2, face a major test at the end of this month when Israel’s 10-month partial moratorium on new construction in occupied territory is set to end.
Netanyahu said on Sunday Israel could not extend the moratorium but indicated he would limit the scope of future building, officials said.
Abbas has threatened to quit the peace talks with Israel if it resumes new construction in occupied territory.
“The United States believes that the moratorium should be extended,” Clinton told reporters, echoing a view taken by U.S. President Barack Obama.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit urged Israel to halt all settlement activities and to stop “buying itself time”.
“Settlements are rejected entirely by Egypt, Palestine, and the Arabs,” he was quoted by state news agency MENA as saying on Monday. “We are in constant talks with Israel but the Israeli side often avoids giving clear answers.”
Clinton put some of the onus on the Palestinians to take unspecified steps to help Netanyahu to extend the freeze.
“This has to be understood as an effort by both the prime minister and the president to get over the hurdle posed by the expiration of the original moratorium in order to continue negotiations,” she said.
“There are obligations on both sides to ensure that these negotiations continue,” she added.