November 1, 2009

Of course, considering how little Israel has conceded to the peace process in the past, just about anything would look good. But I'll cautiously give the Obama administration some props here - they do appear to be serious about forcing at least some progress with Israel:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Saturday that Israel is making "unprecedented" concessions on West Bank settlement construction — a position clearly at odds with the prevailing Palestinian view.

Palestinian leaders have said they will not return to peace talks with Israel unless it halts all settlement building on lands they claim for a future state, and they believe Israel has blatantly defied a U.S. demand for a settlement freeze.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday, Clinton said Israel is putting significant limits on settlement activity.

"What the prime minister has offered in specifics on restraints on a policy of settlements ... is unprecedented," she said.

The issue of settlements has become the biggest sticking point in getting Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

Clinton made it clear that she wasn't pleased with Israeli settlement construction but that it was no reason to hold up talks.

"There are always demands made in any negotiation that are not going to be fully realized," she said.

Likely translation: We're going to take whatever crumb you throw as encouragement, but you're not going to get off the hook that easily.

Palestinians expressed deep disappointment and frustration at Clinton's words, which signaled a departure from past U.S. calls for a complete freeze on settlement activity.

"If America cannot get Israel to implement a settlement freeze, what chance do Palestinians have of reaching agreement with Israel on permanent status issues?" Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said.

Similar sentiments were voiced by Jordan and Egypt, the only two Arab countries to have peace agreements with Israel. The two countries said most of the blame lay with Israel, but signaled their unhappiness with the American shift.

Jordan's King Abdullah II traveled to Cairo for talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. After the meeting, a royal palace statement released in Jordan said both leaders "insisted on the need for an immediate halt of all Israeli unilateral actions, which undermine the chances of achieving peace, especially the settlement construction."

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