WASHINGTON (JTA) -- Hillary Rodham Clinton urged the Palestinian Authority to join negotiations with Israel.
"We strongly urge President Abbas and his government to join negotiations with Israel now," the U.S. Secretary of State said Thursday evening, addressing a Center for Middle East Peace dinner.
Clinton called on the Palestinian Authority to "redouble its efforts to put an end to incitement and violence, crack down on corruption, and ingrain a culture of peace and tolerance among Palestinians," but added that the United States sees "positive and encouraging" progress in the West Bank under the leadership of the P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
She praised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government for easing travel conditions in the West Bank toward institution building and said that the P.A. plan for statehood within two years, backed by the Obama administration, would come through a "negotiated settlement with Israel."
Clinton's speech appeared aimed at pushing back against Jewish community complaints that the Obama administration has focused its criticism mostly on Israel's settlement plans and has not sufficiently underscored that the Netanyahu government is ready to negotiate, while Abbas is still balking, and the Palestinian Authority continues to tolerate incitement.
Clinton also called on Israel to do more. "Easing up on access and movement in the West Bank, in response to credible Palestinian security performance, is not sufficient to prove to the Palestinians that this embrace is sincere," she said. "We encourage Israel to continue building momentum toward a comprehensive peace by demonstrating respect for the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians, stopping settlement activity, and addressing the humanitarian needs in Gaza."
Clinton suggested the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, held captive by Hamas in Gaza since 2006, is a condition for the inclusion of the terrorist group in talks, in addition to its acceptance of prior peace deals, its recognition of Israel and its renunciation of terrorism. "Gilad Shalit must be released immediately and returned to his family," she said. Hamas controls the Gaza Strip.
Clinton said stasis would reinforce Hamas' case, while progress in peace would promote relative moderates like Abbas. "Even more than economic opportunities, Palestinians yearn for a state to call their own, for the dignity that all people deserve, and the right to chart their own destiny," she said. "If Mahmoud Abbas cannot deliver on these aspirations, his support will fade and Palestinians will turn to alternatives – including Hamas. And that way leads only to more conflict."
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