Monday, September 6, 2010

Clinton: time ticking for Israel-Palestinian peace

Sat Sep 4, 2010 6:47pm EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday urged Israel and the Palestinians to overcome the final obstacles to peace, saying their new talks may be a last chance to end the conflict.

Clinton, speaking to Israeli and Palestinian television one day after direct peace talks between the two sides were relaunched in Washington, said skepticism and suspicion cannot be allowed to derail the talks as has happened so many times in the past.

"First, I think that time is not on the side of either Israeli or Palestinian aspirations for security, peace and a state," Clinton said.

"It's clear to me that the forces of growth and positive energy are in a conflict with the forces of destruction and negativity. And the United States wants to weigh in on the side of leaders and people who see this as maybe the last chance for a very long time to resolve this."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ended Thursday's meeting with an agreement to talk again on September 14-15 and every two weeks thereafter, fast-tracking a peace push that is one of U.S. President Barack Obama's top priorities.

Both sides accept the need for a "two-state solution" to establish an independent Palestinian state existing peacefully beside Israel.

But political analysts say there are numerous obstacles to a final deal, the first of which comes on September 26 when Israel's partial freeze on building new Jewish settlements in occupied areas of the West Bank comes to an end.

Abbas has said he cannot continue with peace talks if settlement construction resumes but Netanyahu, whose coalition is dominated by pro-settler parties, appears reluctant to extend the moratorium.

Clinton has in the past described the rising risks both sides face, saying "the dynamics of demography, ideology and technology" threaten to produce more extremist groups with better weapons dedicating to a violent solution to the conflict.

She said it was important both sides now take concrete steps to improve conditions on the ground, particularly in areas where Palestinians and Israelis come into direct contact.

"So the checkpoints, the roadblocks, all of the daily challenges that we know affect the Palestinians, are certainly on the agenda," Clinton said.

"I think the political negotiations need to be matched with changes on the ground, and confidence-building and interactions between Israelis and Palestinians."

Clinton acknowledged the challenges ahead for both Abbas and Netanyahu, but said both leaders realized the imperative for their peoples to find a solution.

"These two men, perhaps for different reasons, may be the two who can actually do this," she said.

(Editing by David Alexander and Jerry Norton)

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