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updated 12/10/2010 9:22:57 PM ET 2010-12-11T02:22:57

Without suggesting a new path toward Mideast peace, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed frustration Friday with the Israel-Palestinian impasse while insisting the Obama administration will "not lose hope."

She said the U.S. will keep pressing for a solution, and she called on Israelis and Palestinians to set aside their differences.

"It is no secret that the parties have a long way to go and that they have not yet made the difficult decisions that peace requires," she said in a dinner speech at the Saban Forum, a Mideast policy seminar sponsored by the Brookings Institution think tank. "And like many of you, I regret that we have not gotten farther, faster."

She spoke just days after the administration dropped an effort to persuade Israel to impose a temporary freeze on some settlement activity. The Palestinians insist that direct peace talks cannot resume until Israel halts settlement construction.

Clinton made clear that she believes the Israelis and Palestinians are ultimately responsible for settling their long conflict.

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"Unfortunately, as we have learned, the parties in this conflict have often not been ready to take the necessary steps," she said. "Going forward, they must take responsibility and make the difficult decisions that peace requires. This begins with a sincere effort to see the world through the other side's eyes, to try to understand their perspective and positions. Palestinians must appreciate Israel's legitimate security concerns. And Israelis must accept the legitimate territorial aspirations of the Palestinian people. Ignoring the other side's needs is in the end self-defeating."

And she said the status quo is untenable.

"I know that improvements in security and growing prosperity have convinced some that this conflict can be waited out or largely ignored," she said. "This view is wrong and it is dangerous."

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She said that despite the latest setbacks, the U.S. would not give up its effort to draw the two sides toward a final settlement. And she said the establishment of a Palestinian state through negotiations is "inevitable."

"We will push the parties to grapple with the core issues," she said. "We will work with them on the ground to continue laying the foundations for a future Palestinian state. And we will redouble our regional diplomacy. When one way is blocked, we will seek another. We will not lose hope and neither should the people of the region."

Clinton did not mention the administration's frequently repeated goal of achieving at least the outline of a final peace settlement by September 2011. That goal was set when Israeli and Palestinian leaders came to Washington in September to resume negotiations -- a process that quickly broke down over disagreement on Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank.

She pledged to stay actively involved, but she offered no new strategy for achieving the peace deal that has eluded other U.S. administrations.

"The United States will not be a passive participant," she said. "We will push the parties to lay out their positions on the core issues without delay, in good faith, and with real specificity. We will work to narrow the gaps, asking tough questions and expecting substantive answers. And, in the context of our private conversations with the parties, we will offer our own ideas and bridging proposals when appropriate."

That has been the U.S. position all along.

Before her remarks, Clinton met the Palestinian prime minister, the lead Palestinian negotiator, the Israeli defense minister, Israel's former foreign minister and the U.N. special envoy for the region.

On Thursday, Clinton held lengthy talks with Israel's chief negotiator. The administration's special Mideast peace envoy will travel to the region next week.

She spoke just days after the U.S. dropped its bid to persuade Israel to renew a freeze in West Bank settlement construction, a key Palestinian demand for returning to the talks stalled since an earlier slowdown expired in late September. The change in approach followed months of grueling diplomacy, administration officials say, that led them to conclude the focus on settlements over strong Israeli objections was a distraction from dealing with core issues such as security and borders.

Emerging from the State Department after his talks with Clinton on Friday, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat blamed the Israeli government for the breakdown in talks and said the Palestinians would continue to consult with the U.S., the U.N., the European Union and Arab League on how to proceed.

"They are alone responsible for the derailment of the peace process," Erekat told reporters. "The Israeli government had a choice between settlements and peace and they chose settlements." He said the Palestinian position was unchanged and offered no predictions as to what might be next.

U.S officials say their hope is to make progress on security issues and setting a final border between Israel and a future Palestinian state in separate talks with the two sides, enabling a resumption of direct negotiations and an ultimate peace deal.

U.S. envoy George Mitchell is to leave Sunday evening for the Middle East for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He will also visit neighboring Arab states.

___

Associated Press writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explainer: Quest for Mideast peace: An overview

  • Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is pressing ahead with a bid to seek United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state, despite a threatened U.S. veto. U.S. President Barack Obama says the path to peace in the Middle East is through resumption of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The last round of such talks broke down in 2010 with the two sides far apart on key issues. Click on the links on the left to find out more.

    Sources: Reuters, The Associated Press, PBS, BBC, Council on Foreign Relations

  • Jerusalem

    Image: Jerusalem's Old City
    AP file

    Israel claims the entire city as its own undivided capital. Palestinians want East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City and its sites sacred to Muslims, Jews and Christians, to be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has endorsed the idea of a Palestinian state in principle, but says Jerusalem would remain Israel's "indivisible and eternal" capital. Israel's claim to the eastern part of Jerusalem is not recognized internationally.

  • West Bank

    Image: Israeli soldiers patrol the old city in the West Bank city of Hebron
    Abed Al Hashlamoun  /  EPA

    One of the disputed Israeli-occupied territories with areas of limited Palestinian self-government. The scores of Jewish settlements that dot the West Bank have long been a sore point in Mideast peacemaking. Israel began settling the territory soon after capturing it along with Gaza and East Jerusalem in the 1967 war.

    The Palestinians say the settlements, now home to roughly 500,000 Israelis interspersed among 2.6 million Palestinians, are gobbling up land they claim for a future state. The international community considers them illegal, and President Barack Obama has been an outspoken critic.

    The West Bank encompasses important cities such as East Jerusalem, Ramallah and Bethlehem. It would make up the bulk of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, with precise borders to be drawn at the peace table. Expansion of Jewish housing makes those borders ever more complicated.

    A 10-month slowdown in West Bank housing construction by Israel expired in late September, and the Israeli government did not extend it despite international pleas to do so. That contributed to a breakdown in the last round of peace talks between the two sides.

  • Gaza Strip

    Image: Gaza Strip
    Kevin Frayer  /  AP

    This 25-mile-long by 7-mile-wide strip of land lying on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea is home to about 1.6 million Palestinians and is under firm control by the militant Hamas movement. Hamas is opposed not only to the peace talks but also to Israel's very existence.

    Gaza, which is also supposed to be part of a negotiated Palestinian state, has been the staging point for rocket attacks on Israel, which has responded with a economically crippling naval blockade of the territory.

    Most of Gaza's residents are from refugee families that fled or were expelled from the land that became Israel in 1948. Of these, most live in impoverished refugee camps to which the United Nations delivers basic services such as health and education.

    Israel began curtailing trade and travel in Gaza after Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006. Israel and many Western nations consider Hamas a terrorist organization. Hamas seized control of Gaza the following year, expelling members of the rival Fatah movement.

    Gaza's Islamist Hamas rulers say they will never give Israel what it most wants from a Middle East deal, which is recognition of the Jewish state and a legitimate place in the region. They see their Fatah rivals in the West Bank, who have been open to negotiating with Israel, as appeasers and traitors to the Palestinian cause.

  • Golan Heights

    A fortified and strategically important hilly area on the border of Syria, Israel, Lebanon and Jordan. The Golan Heights were part of Syria until 1967, when they were captured by Israel during the Six-Day War. Israel unilaterally annexed the Golan Heights in 1981.

    Syria has said it wants to secure the return of the Golan Heights as part of any peace deal. A deal with Syria would also involve the dismantling of Jewish settlements in the territory.

  • Egypt

    Egypt in 1979 became the first Arab state to sign a peace deal with Israel. Despite Arab world pressure, Cairo has adhered at least to the formal requirements of its peace treaty.

    Egypt, under Hosni Mubarak, had played the role of mediator at several very critical junctures in the peace process with the Palestinians and was a key U.S. ally in the tumultuous region. The U.S. underwrites much of Egypt's foreign aid.

    But more recently, Israel's relations with Egypt have deteriorated since Mubarak was ousted by a popular uprising in February 2011. In September, an Egyptian mob stormed the Israeli Embassy in Cairo and forced Israeli diplomats to be evacuated.

  • Syria

    Damascus is one of Israel's harshest opponents, and supports a number of armed groups that carry out attacks against Israel. Israel has condemned Syria for its support for the Hamas Islamic government in Gaza.

    Tensions between Syria and Israel rose in 2010 after Israeli President Shimon Perez accused Syria of supplying Scud missiles to the Lebanon-based Shiite movement Hezbollah, which the U.S. classifies as a foreign terrorist organization. Israel has warned that it will respond to missile attacks from Hezbollah by launching immediate retaliation against Syria itself.

    Hamas and other radical Palestinian groups based in Syria have rejected any move by the Palestinian Authority to resume direct peace talks with Israel.

    Syria has accused Israel of posing a threat to the world with its "huge military nuclear arsenal."

    Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime has found itself under international pressure recently, condemned by leaders around the world for a bloody crackdown on anti-government demonstrators that began in mid-March 2011.

  • Jordan

    Jordan is considered a very important country in resolving the Mideast conflict due to its proximity to Israel and the occupied territories and its large population of Palestinian refugees.

    Jordan, along with Egypt, are the only Arab states to have signed peace treaties with Israel. Jordan is also a strategic ally to the United States in the Middle East.

    Amman has long maintained close security cooperation with Israel but has criticized Israeli treatment of Palestinians and fears a spillover of violence if Israel does not make peace with the Palestinians.

    Jordan's King Abdullah was quoted as saying in September 2011 that Jordan and the Palestinians were now in a stronger position than Israel, telling a group of academics that the Arab uprisings had weakened Israel's position.

  • Lebanon

    Lebanon, a small Middle East sovereign state, has long been the staging ground of proxy wars in the region. It is bordered by Syria to the north and east, and Israel to the south.

    Dozens of private armies grew out of Lebanon's 15-year civil war that ended in 1990 and still flourish 20 years later.

    A period of relative stability was shattered in 2006 when an all-out 34-day war between Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim political group with a militant wing the U.S. classifies as a terrorist organization, and Israel caused significant civilian deaths and heavy damage to Lebanon's civil infrastructure.

    Hezbollah is a central player in Lebanon. Hezbollah sets its own military strategy and it makes decisions that could lead to war without the involvement of the Lebanese state.

    The power balance worries the U.S. and Israel, Hezbollah's sworn enemy.

    U.N. peacekeepers have been charged with monitoring Lebanon's southern border with Israel since 1978. The force was boosted to almost 12,000 troops after Israel and Iranian-backed Hezbollah fought in 2006.

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