WASHINGTON (JTA) — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Jewish settlement construction "undermines America’s unique ability to play a role" in the peace process and that the "status quo is unsustainable."
Speaking Monday morning at the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Clinton said that "New construction in East Jerusalem or the West Bank undermines mutual trust and endangers the proximity talks that are the first step toward the full negotiations that both sides want and need."
This is not “a judgment on the final status of Jerusalem, which is an issue to be settled at the negotiating table,” she said.
Reiterating her commitment to Israel’s security, Clinton said that "Our credibility in this process depends in part on our willingness to praise both sides when they are courageous, and when we don’t agree to say so, and say so unequivocally.”
Clinton’s speech follows two weeks of tensions between Jerusalem and Washington over Israel’s announcement during a visit to Israel by Vice President Joe Biden of plans to add 1,600 housing units in a Jewish neighborhood of eastern Jerusalem.
Such disagreements, Clinton said, are harmful because they expose "daylight between Israel and the United States that others in the region could hope to exploit."
The statement was different from President Obama’s remark last summer to Jewish leaders in which he endorsed occasional "daylight" between the two countries.
"We commend Prime Minister Netanyahu for embracing the vision of the two-state solution and for acting to lift roadblocks and ease movement throughout the West Bank," Clinton said in her speech to AIPAC. "But we also expect Israel to continue taking concrete steps that will help turn that vision into reality — building trust and momentum toward comprehensive peace by demonstrating respect for the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians, stopping settlement activity and addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza."
Clinton also criticized the naming of a Palestinian square after a terrorist and the calls by some Palestinians to "defend" Muslim holy sites from a rededication of a synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, calling the latter "purely and simply an act of incitement."
The U.S. alliance with Israel is not due to the fact that AIPAC can put "7,500 people in the convention center," she said, but due to many shared values.
Clinton received one of several standing ovations when she said, "Our commitment to Israel’s security and Israel’s future is rock solid, enduring, unwavering and forever."
She also said the United States is "determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons," and that the administration is taking time to produce new sanctions in order to win the "broadest possible support for our efforts.” Clinton added that "Our aim is not incremental sanctions but sanctions that will bite.”
AIPAC had broadcast messages to attendees on Sunday emphasizing the importance of treating conference speakers politely. Clinton received standing ovations when she arrived and departed, and no audible boos. Her remarks on settlements were met, for the most part, by silence.