Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu landed late last night in Washington ahead of the launch of direct peace talks with the Palestinian Authority. Netanyahu is expected to tell U.S. President Barack Obama that last night's shooting near Kiryat Arba underscores the importance of Israel's security demands.
The U.S. State Department found out about last night's shooting just outside Kiryat Arba, which left four Israelis dead, shortly before Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It was the first of several meetings she held with Arab leaders yesterday.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley didn't seem to be in a rush to condemn the attack, which occurred a day before the Israeli-Palestinian summit was scheduled to begin. Obama is hosting Netanyahu, Abbas and the leaders of Egypt and Jordan at the White House in a bid to forge a peace deal in a year's time. Tomorrow, Clinton will formally open the first direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in 20 months.
"Any time one human being takes out a weapon and fires and kills other human beings, it's a tragedy," Crowley said. "We just don't know the circumstances under which this occurred."
He explicitly linked the shooting with the summit, saying: "We are cognizant that there could be external events that can have an impact on the environment. We also are cognizant that there may well be actors in the region who are deliberately making these kinds of attacks in order to try to sabotage the process."
Crowley said Washington was relying on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to promote peace, with the goal of reaching an agreement within a year.
"The broad parameters of an agreement are actually fairly well-known. What we need is the political will and creativity to work through the complexity and challenge of these issues and ultimately reach an agreement that ends the conflict," he said. "We believe that the leaders understand that the moment is now and that we think that an agreement is achievable."
In addition to Abbas, Clinton also met with the foreign ministers of Jordan and Egypt and Quartet envoy Tony Blair. She was also scheduled to meet yesterday with Netanyahu, but the meeting had not taken place by press time.
The State Department said the continuation of the 10-month settlement construction freeze would be on the summit agenda, but would not say whether there was an American proposal to break the deadlock on the issue.
Maen Rashid Areikat, the Palestinian ambassador to Washington, said the Palestinians are intent on leaving the talks if the construction freeze is not extended. "We've expressed our position and it's unequivocal," he said. "The matter is critical for us because it's something visible and any Palestinian can see the settlements expanding, and then they wonder if the Israelis are serious about their intention to give them back the land for the construction of the independent state."
Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Forces is preparing for further attacks or disturbances during the summit. IDF sources said there were no concrete warnings of planned attacks, but the assessment is that Palestinian terrorists are interested in carrying out attacks. Troops have been put on alert at roadblocks, and forces have been bolstered in some areas.
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