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US, Portugal, Hit Israeli Settlement Plan

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Portuguese Foreign Minister Paulo Portas at the State Department in Washington, Sep 27, 2011

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Portuguese Foreign Minister Paulo Portas Tuesday criticized Israel’s announced intention to build 1100 new Jewish housing units in East Jerusalem. The United States and Portugal are pushing an international plan to re-start Israeli-Palestinian peace talks within a month.

The Israeli move came less than a week after the launch of an effort by the Middle East Quartet to re-start direct peace talks, and head off a confrontation over the Palestinian quest for statehood recognition in the United Nations.

At a joint press event with her Portuguese counterpart, Secretary of State Clinton made clear U.S. disappointment over what she termed a “counterproductive” Israeli action. “We have long urged both sides to avoid any kind of action which could undermine trust, including and perhaps most particularly in Jerusalem, any action that could be viewed as provocative by either side,” she said.

Portugal is in the middle of a two-year term as a non-permanent U.N. Security Council member, and as such will be key player on the Palestinian request for full U.N. membership filed last Friday.

Foreign Minister Portas declined to say how Portugal would vote if statehood came to a vote in the council, saying his government wants to see the early reconvening of direct peace talks as called for by the Quartet.

“After the declaration of the Quartet, you have a real chance for negotiations. And when you have a real chance for negotiations, you avoid hostile measures to negotiations. That means the (Israeli) settlement decision is not a good one,” Portas said.

The Portuguese official said if direct talks do reconvene, his government would in the interim support an upgrade of the Palestinians’ observer status in the U.N. as a goodwill gesture.

The Quartet, consisting of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, urged the parties to return to talks in 30 days under a timetable calling for progress on the borders of a Palestinian state within three months and a final deal by the end of 2012.

Clinton said an agreement on territory would once-and-for-all end the recurrent disputes over Israeli settlement activity.

“If there are negotiations that delineate borders, questions of where anybody builds are settled. But in the absence of such negotiations, there are going to continue to be perceptions on both sides that the other side is not willing to negotiate,” Clinton said.

The talks at the State Department also covered Portugal’s economic crisis, with Clinton hailing the Lisbon government’s austerity program and Foreign Minister Portas declaring that Portugal will “win this battle against debt.”