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Clinton offers Netanyahu security pledge

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton assured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday that Israel's security requirements would be fully taken into account in any future peace deal with the Palestinians
/ Source: news services

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton assured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday that Israel's security requirements would be fully taken into account in any future peace deal with the Palestinians.

In a move that could allow Netanyahu to persuade his governing coalition to back a new freeze on Israeli settlement construction, Clinton and the visiting Israeli leader ended a marathon round of talks in New York with a strong declaration of Washington's "unshakable commitment to Israel's security and to peace in the region."

"The prime minister and the secretary agreed on the importance of continuing direct negotiations to achieve our goals," the two sides said in a joint statement, which did not mention the settlement issue directly.

But Clinton repeated that the peace talks — which have hit an impasse over the settlement issue — could yet yield an independent Palestine living next to Israel "with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements."

There was no sign that the talks might resume soon.

"Those requirements will be fully taken into account in any future peace agreement," the joint statement said.

'Agreed swaps' of territory
It added that any future Palestinian state should be based on its 1967 borders with "agreed swaps" of territory, holding out the prospect that Israel might retain some of the occupied West Bank in exchange for giving the Palestinians other Israeli territory.

Israeli officials said Netanyahu has pushed Clinton for broad new U.S.-Israel understandings on Israel's security needs in any eventual peace agreement.

"The chances of reaching a peace agreement will be improved significantly by achieving comprehensive security understandings between Israel and the United States," Netanyahu said before Thursday's talks began.

Israel wants a long-term military presence in the Jordan Valley along the eastern border of a future Palestinian state as well as financial help to pay for security arrangements that would be necessary if a peace deal is achieved.

Thursday's talks marked the Obama administration's latest attempt to restart the direct peace talks that began in Washington on September 2 but were suspended by the Palestinians three weeks later when Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month limited building freeze in West Bank settlements.

Earlier, as the meeting began, Netanyahu said Israel is "quite serious" about reaching a final peace deal with the Palestinians and hopes to broaden the effort to include other Arab countries.

The Israeli leader said he and Clinton had been consulting by phone "quite intensively" over the last few weeks but had not met face-to-face since an opening round of talks in Jerusalem in September.

The talks broke off shortly after that session, and the Palestinians have insisted they will not resume until Israel halts construction in Jewish settlements.

Clinton, who on Wednesday said the Israeli decision on settlement building was counterproductive, said she still believed that both Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas were serious about the talks.

"The prime minister and President Abbas are both very committed to a two-state solution. And we are going to find a way forward," she said.

The meetings lasted longer than either side anticipated. U.S. and Israeli officials were still talking well into the afternoon, with Netanyahu scheduled to leave for home later in the evening.

Netanyahu, whose governing coalition is dominated by pro-settler parties, has resisted calls for a freeze on settlement construction. But U.S. officials say they still hope to find a formula to revive the talks, which U.S. President Barack Obama has said could yield a deal within a year to set up an independent Palestinian state.

Abbas: 'Unilateral actions'
With the peace process in limbo, the Palestinians have stepped up calls for the international community to recognize Palestinian statehood now -- a move the United States fears could further complicate the situation.

Abbas said on Thursday the Palestinians would have to consider alternatives to the peace process given the expansion of settlements on land that the Palestinians hope will eventually become their state.

"They (the Israelis) are undertaking unilateral actions every day," Abbas said in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Netanyahu's spokesman Mark Regev told CNN that all issues should be on the table in future talks with the Palestinians, which he said should resume immediately without any preconditions.

"Let's negotiate. Let's find solutions. Let's work hard at creating peace," Regev said. "I don't understand frankly the Palestinian position where they say 'we want peace, but we don't want to talk to Israel.'"