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US Secretary of State Says Israel, Palestinians Should Resume Talks Without Preconditions

US Secretary of State Says Israel, Palestinians Should Resume Talks Without Preconditions
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is calling on Israel and the Palestinians to return to negotiations as soon as possible. The top U.S. diplomat met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and earlier with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Abu Dhabi as part of U.S. efforts to step up the pressure on both sides to resume talks.

Hillary Clinton arrived in Jerusalem late Saturday and went straight into meetings with Israeli leaders.

In joint remarks with Clinton, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for an immediate resumption of talks. Clinton said Israelis and Palestinians should begin negotiations and iron out their differences - including the key sticking point of Jewish settlements - in talks. "We know that negotiations often take positions that then have to be worked through once the actual process starts. I think the best way to determine the way forward is, as the Prime Minister said, get on the path," she said.

Mr. Netanyahu said Israel is ready to begin talks without preconditions. "The other side is not. It is asking and piling on preconditions that it never put on in the 16 years that we've had the peace process since annunciation of the Oslo accords. There have not been these preconditions. It's a change of Palestinian policy and I hope they change it back to the right thing which is to get into the negotiating tent," he said.

The U.S. Secretary of State affirmed Mr. Netanyahu's words. "There has never been a precondition. It's always been an issue within the negotiations," she said.

The Netanyahu government has offered to impose limits on construction in settlements, a concession Clinton called unprecedented.

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Israel's offer does not go far enough for the Palestinians. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Secretary Clinton at meeting earlier Saturday in Abu Dhabi the Palestinians will not return to talks unless Israel calls a total freeze on construction at settlements in the occupied West Bank.

He said the most important thing he and Secretary Clinton discussed was the peace process and how to resume talks. Mr. Abbas said the Palestinians emphasized that the most important thing for them to continue the peace process is a halt to settlement activities in general.

The Palestinians had been encouraged by President Barack Obama's earlier calls for Israel to freeze settlement construction. Many were angered after the White House recently modified its language and instead told Israel to restrain settlement growth.

The Palestinians say the existence of the settlements - home to hundreds of thousands of Israelis - impede prospects for the creation of a viable future Palestinian state.