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Clinton Criticizes Israel's Plans to Demolish Arab Homes

Hillary Clinton has made her first trip to the West Bank as U.S. Secretary of State, criticizing Israel for its plans to demolish a large number of Arab homes in East Jerusalem. She has also reaffirmed U.S. support for Palestinian statehood. But many Palestinians are wondering what concrete steps Mrs. Clinton and the Obama administration will take to help their cause.

A line of Palestinian police jeeps made its way down a street in Ramallah - part of the heightened security surrounding Hillary Clinton's first visit to the Palestinian territories as U.S. Secretary of State.

In a news conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Mrs. Clinton repeated her earlier message: that the United States supports efforts for setting up an independent Palestinian state.

The Secretary of State said in the end, the United States will leave it up to the Palestinians and Israel to determine the exact solution to the conflict. She said the United States will offer its support until the goal is realized.

She said the Palestinian people deserve the same right that people in other countries have, to achieve prosperity.

"The United States aims to foster conditions in which a Palestinian state can be fully realized; a state that can provide these opportunities; a state that is a responsible partner; is at peace with Israel and its Arab neighbors and is accountable to its people," Clinton said. "That is a state that this government is attempting to build."

But the words are met with skepticism among many people on the streets of Ramallah who have heard a succession of U.S. administrations say they support Palestinian statehood. Majd Atah el Obra, a Bedouin, wonders whether the Obama administration will be able to do anything different.

He says Mrs. Clinton has uttered beautiful words and he hopes that Palestinians will get statehood because he says it is time for them to be free from Israeli occupation. He says he hopes that she can do something, but in his opinion, she will probably not be able to do anything.

Jamil Hilal is a Palestinian sociologist and writer in Ramallah.

"So far, what we heard is 'OK, we are committed to a two state solution,' but in concrete terms what that means, we have yet to hear anything that is different from what the Bush administration had been saying," Hilal said.

The previous administration of George Bush had called Israel's continued expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem "unhelpful." Mrs. Clinton on Wednesday used that word again in referring to Israel's planned demolition of scores of homes in Arab East Jerusalem. She then indicated the United States government would take some concrete measures to address the issue.

"It is an issue that we intend to raise with the government of Israel and the government at the municipal level in Jerusalem because it is clearly a matter of deep concern to those who are directly affected but the ramifications far beyond the individuals and the families," Clinton said.

Mrs. Clinton had earlier - in her visit to Israel - met briefly with the mayor of Jerusalem, whose administration has been responsible for the demolition orders.

While meeting with Mahmoud Abbas, Secretary Clinton relayed a letter to the Palestinian leader from President Obama.

In his remarks on Wednesday, Mr. Abbas said the letter contained President Obama's assurances that he is fully committed to the peace process, that the United States supports the Palestinian Authority, and the Arab Peace initiative - a proposal in which Arab nations would normalize relations with Israel in exchange for Israel's full withdrawal from lands it seized in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.