Ramallah, West Bank, March 5 – U.S. Foreign Ministry Hillary Clinton criticised Israel on Wednesday over plans to demolish Palestinian homes in Arab East Jerusalem and said Washington would engage Israeli leaders on Jewish settlements.
Calling the planned destruction of more than 80 dwellings “unhelpful,” Clinton said after talks with Palestinian leaders, “It is an issue that we intend to raise with the government of Israel and the government at the municipal level in Jerusalem.”
Israel says the homes slated for demolition were built without permits.
Palestinians say authorisation from Israel’s Jerusalem municipality is nearly impossible to obtain. They accuse Israel of trying to drive them out of East Jerusalem, captured in the 1967 war, to make room for Jewish families.
Israel considers all of Jerusalem its “united and eternal” capital, a claim that does not have international recognition. The Palestinian Authority wants East Jerusalem to be the capital of a Palestinian state.
At a news conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the occupied West Bank, Clinton stopped short of repeating U.S. calls for an immediate cessation of Israeli settlement expansion but promised to follow up on the issue.
“We will be looking for a way to put it on the table along with all the other issues that need to be discussed and resolved,” she said.
“I think at this time, we should wait until we have a new Israeli government. That will be soon and then we will look at whatever tools are available,” Clinton said.
She also repeated her support for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Abbas said that unless Israel’s incoming leaders were committed to a two-state solution and halted settlement construction and Jerusalem demolitions, “we will not consider them as peace partners.”
Clinton, on her first visit to the region as secretary of state, said the United States planned to play a “coordinating role” to revive peace efforts.
“But at the end of the day, no one can make a decision on whether or not there will be two states or a comprehensive peace settlement except those that are directly involved,” she told reporters travelling with her.
It is a time of political transition in Israel, which held an election on Feb. 10 that led to right-winger Benjamin Netanyahu being invited to form a government by April 3.
The Likud party leader’s reluctance to commit himself to the creation of a Palestinian state could put him on a collision course with the Obama White House.
With Israel still in political flux and peace talks with the Palestinians stalled, Clinton used her Middle East visit to announce a new approach to improve U.S. relations with Syria.
She said the decision to send two senior U.S. officials to Damascus later this week was also aimed at laying the groundwork for a comprehensive peace agreement.
“We believe that there is an opportunity for Syria to play a constructive role if it chooses to do so,” she said.
Political analysts said the overture is also aimed at weakening Syria’s ties with Iran and Palestinian and Lebanese militant groups.
By Sue Pleming and Mohammed Assadi