Clinton lauds Israel’s ‘unprecedented’ concessions

JERUSALEM (JTA) — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton praised Israel for offering ”unprecedented” concessions on West Bank settlement construction.

The concessions include not building any new settlements or expropriating land for additions to existing settlements, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a news conference Saturday evening with Clinton.

Clinton said a settlement freeze has never been a precondition for restarting negotiations.

"What the prime minister has offered in specifics of a restraint on the policy of settlements which he has just described — no new starts, for example — is unprecedented in the context of prior-to negotiations," she said at the news conference.

During a meeting earlier Saturday in Ramallah, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected an Israeli proposal brought by Clinton that Israel be allowed to complete 3,000 housing units and temporarily freeze other construction, The New York Times reported.

Abbas is insisting on a halt to all settlement construction before peace negotiations can resume.

On Sunday, Netanyahu called on the Palestinians to "get a grip" and drop preconditions to restart peace talks.

"We hope very much that the Palestinians will get a grip and engage in the diplomatic process," he told his Cabinet at the beginning of its weekly meeting. "It is in the interests of Israel and the Palestinians."

Netanyahu also told the Cabinet that U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell would remain in the region for several more days in an effort to bring the sides together in order to begin negotiations. Mitchell arrived in Israel on Oct. 30.

Palestinian officials criticized the United States for "backpedaling" on its demands that Israel halt settlement construction.

"We are at a critical moment," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Sunday in a written statement. "The way forward, however, is not to drop the demand for Israel to comply with its obligations."

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