Hillary Clinton berates Netanyahu over settlements

Tue Mar 16, 2010 3:58pm EDT
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By Alastair Macdonald

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday he must work to repair relations with Washington after a debacle over Jewish settlements that has undermined U.S. efforts to mediate new peace talks with the Palestinians.

Clinton's blunt language betrayed American frustration after a visit by Vice President Joe Biden was overshadowed by Israel's approval of new Jewish building on occupied land.

She reminded Netanyahu of the commitments the U.S. makes to protect Israel from hostile neighbors, her spokesman said.

On a day when Israeli forces sealed off the West Bank and deployed riot squads around Jerusalem's holy sites to contain Palestinian anger during weekly Muslim prayers, Clinton called the latest settlement approval a "deeply negative signal about Israel's approach to the bilateral relationship...and had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process".

Biden's visit this week had been billed as reassuring the Jewish state that the administration of Barack Obama would deal with the threat Israel perceives from Iran's nuclear program -- as well as setting the presidential seal on a deal to end a 15-month hiatus in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Instead, hours after Biden spoke of Obama's commitment to Israel's security in the face of threats from Tehran, Israel's Interior Ministry gave approval for 1,600 new homes for Jewish settlers in a part of the West Bank annexed to Jerusalem.

Speaking to reporters in Washington, Clinton's spokesman P.J. Crowley stressed the disconnect: "The secretary said she could not understand how this happened, particularly in light of the United States' strong commitment to Israel's security.

"She made clear that the Israeli government needed to demonstrate not just through words but through specific actions that they are committed to this relationship and to the peace process," Crowley said, describing Clinton as "frustrated".   Continued...

<p>An undercover Israeli police officer holds a weapon as another detains a Palestinian suspected of throwing stones during clashes in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Wadi al-Joz March 16, 2010. REUTERS/Baz Ratner</p>