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Palestinian PM criticizes Clinton for letting Israel set peace agenda

This weekend, Clinton appeared to back off from US demands for an Israeli settlement freeze, raising the ire of Arabs. In Morocco today, she tried to mollify them.

By Ilene R. PrusherStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 2, 2009

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sits by US ambassador to Morocco Samuel Kaplen prior to a bilateral meeting at the Mamounia palace in Marrakesh, Morocco on Monday.

Abdelhak Senna/AFP/Newscom

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Ramallah, West Bank

Following US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit here this weekend, Palestinians are reacting with frustration over what appeared to be a shift in the Obama administration's policy toward Israeli settlement growth in the West Bank.

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Although Secretary Clinton had previously insisted that the US wanted a total freeze on West Bank settlement expansion, she said during her meetings here this weekend that Palestinians should return to negotiations without preconditions – and lauded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's steps toward limiting settlement growth as "unprecedented."

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, in an interview with the Monitor, said that this most recent development illustrated an "asymmetry" in negotiations dating back to the 1993 Oslo Accords – and one that must be rectified in order for future talks to be more fruitful.

"What are we going to do when it comes time to actually resolving these issues, and we're told, 'Sorry. That's all that can be on offer because that's all that Israel is prepared to offer,'" said Dr. Fayyad, adding that Palestinians are being asked to settle for less than what was considered as conducive to peacemaking under the Bush administration. "The key idea underlying the Oslo process leaves the matter of ending the occupation up to the occupying power – that is, Israel. Where we are today shows the shortcomings of this approach."

Netanyahu takes credit for 'economic boom'

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argues that Israel is doing more than ever to help Palestinians in the West Bank: easing travel restrictions and removing checkpoints, fostering Palestinian economic growth, and offering to curtail some settlement construction.

"We are making a focused effort to resume the peace process," Netanyahu said at a cabinet meeting on Sunday, during which he said his policies had led to an "economic boom" for Palestinians. "We are ready to start negotiations without delay."

Never before, Netanyahu says, have there been Palestinian "preconditions" to negotiations. As such, he has portrayed the Palestinians – particularly President Mahmoud Abbas, who refuses to have official talks in the absence of a settlement freeze – as the main stumbling block to progress.

Fayyad pointed out, however, that that is not a new demand – nor a purely Palestinian one; the 2003 road map introduced by the Bush administration insisted on a full freeze in settlement activity, including natural growth. Under former prime minister Ariel Sharon, Israel agreed to implementing that road map, as did the Palestinians, whose obligations under the blueprint included cracking down on extremism. Both accused each other of not living up to their promises.

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