Clinton asks Barak to open Gaza crossings
U.S. Secretary of State says 'two-state solution is in Israel's best interest' during visit to region.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton requested on Tuesday that Israel permit the opening of Gaza border crossings to allow for massive supply of humanitarian aid to the civilian population.
Clinton made the request during a meeting with Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Last week, Haaretz reported that Clinton sent angry messages to the Israeli government over the deteriorating humanitarian plight of Gaza residents.
Barak told Clinton that some 127,000 tons of food and medicine have crossed into Gaza through the openings since the end of the recent Israeli offensive. The defense minister added that over 12 million liters of fuel have been provided for the Gaza power station.
Clinton then met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in his residence in Jerusalem.
"The Secretary of State has an excellent familiarity with the State of Israel and the entire Middle East, one which goes back many years, and I am certain that she will know how to utilize all the experience and knowledge ... to advance stability and quiet in the region ? because this is a goal we all share," Olmert said.
"Israel cannot tolerate a nuclear Iran, and I heard President Obama and the Secretary of State that they resolutely object to a nuclear Iran," Olmert said.
Earlier Tuesday, Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu met with Clinton in Jerusalem. Following their meeting, Netanyahu said that he had "found common ground with Clinton in attaining the common goals of our two countries."
"We need to think creatively in order to move forward and create a different reality, both in terms of security and politically, and this is a common goal for both sides," Netanyahu added.
Clinton met with Netanyahu after having met with President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni earlier in the day as part of a 36-hour visit, her first trip to Israel in her new capacity as secretary of state.
Netanyahu did not offer details on his meeting with Clinton, but mentioned that the conversation between them "was deep, important and good."
"We spoke about the Iranian issue and the Palestinian issue and we promised to meet again after the establishment of a government [in Israel]. We will work together closely in order to bring peace and prosperity to the region," Netanyahu concluded.
Netanyahu is putting together a new coalition government and is expected to be sworn in as prime minister within weeks.
Netanyahu has several weeks to form a new governing coalition. His attempts to bring Livni, his centrist rival, into a broad coalition government have failed so far, largely because of Netanyahu's refusal to embrace Livni's call for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
At present, it appears his most likely government is a narrow alliance of hard-line and Orthodox parties opposed to significant concessions for peace.
Earlier Tuesday, Clinton pledged to press hard for Palestinian statehood, putting Washington on a possible collision course with Netanyahu.
"We happen to believe that moving towards a two-state solution is in Israel's best interests," Clinton, referring to the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, told a joint news conference with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in Jerusalem.
"It is our assessment that eventually, the inevitability of working towards a two-state solution is inescapable," she said.
Livni told the Channel 10 nightly news program "London and Kirschenbaum" that an abandonment of the political process with the Palestinians would bode will for Israel's regional and international standing.
"The issue in the Middle East pertaining to the Palestinians - the existence of two nation-states - is a very important condition," Livni said. "It allows [Israel] to uphold the values of a Jewish state."
"The minute it becomes clear that Israel takes [the Palestinian issue] off the agenda or that there is a collective abandonment of the process, this in my view is as much a strategic threat as other strategic threats," the outgoing foreign minister said. "As such it is very important in my view that as much as [reaching a deal with the Palestinians] is difficult and complex, I still believe it is possible."
Netanyahu has spoken of Palestinian self-government but has shied away from saying he would back a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict.
Holding talks in Jerusalem after attending a donors' conference in Egypt for the Gaza Strip, Clinton reaffirmed the Obama administration's vision of Israeli-Palestinian peace.
"The United States will be vigorously engaged in the pursuit of a two-state solution every step of the way," Clinton said. "The road ahead, we acknowledge, is a difficult one, but there is no time to waste."
At the news conference, Clinton also said the Obama administration would be sending two officials to Syria to discuss bilateral issues.
"We are going to be sending two officials to Syria. There are a number of issues that we have between Syria and the United States, as well as the larger regional concerns that Syria obviously poses," she said.
"We will work with the government of Israel that represents the democratic will of the people of Israel," Clinton said after meeting Peres.
Clinton stressed the U.S.'s unrelenting commitment to Israel's security and said rocket fire at Israel from militants in Gaza must cease.
"There is no doubt that any nation, including Israel, cannot stand idly by while its territory and people are subjected to rocket attacks," she said, criticizing the rocket fire as cynical.
But she also noted her declaration at a high-profile conference in Egypt on Monday that the U.S. supports the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
"During the conference, I emphasized President Obama's and my commitment to working to achieve a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and our support for the Palestinian Authority," she said.
Ahead of their meeting, Netanyahu showed signs of backing off his previous pledges to abandon the current round of peace talks, launched in November 2007 at a U.S.-hosted summit.
Prior to their meeting, a member of Netanyahu's Likud Party said that the party leader was planning to tell the secretary of state that his government will continue peace talks with the Palestinians.
"I think that Hillary Clinton, when she comes today, will find Benjamin Netanyahu prepared to continue to hold negotiations, not only on economic projects but also political negotiations, a political process," said Likud lawmaker Silvan Shalom, a former foreign minister.
That message would mark a change in the hard-line Likud leader's long-stated position that peace talks are a waste of time because of the weakness of the Palestinian leadership. He has suggested in the past he would instead invest in the Palestinian economy while continuing Israel's military occupation of the West Bank indefinitely.
But Netanyahu appears to have altered his stance, at least outwardly, since Israel's national election last month, after which he was chosen to lead the country's next government. Freezing peace talks would set Israel up for a clash with the international community and the U.S., its most important ally.
But Shalom, who spoke to Army Radio, would not say that Netanyahu supports the creation of a Palestinian state in what is now Israeli-controlled territory, the key goal of U.S.-backed peace negotiations. Netanyahu also openly opposes any division of Jerusalem, a central Palestinian demand.
Clinton arrived in Jerusalem Monday evening from the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik, where she pledged $900 million in U.S. aid at an international donors' conference for rebuilding the Gaza Strip after Israel's recent offensive against its Hamas rulers.
After meeting with Peres, the secretary of state visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.
Writing in the guest book, Clinton described the memorial as a testament to the triumph of the Jewish people over murder and destruction and a reminder to all people that the lessons of the Holocaust must never be forgotten. God bless Israel and its future.
Speaking at Monday's conference in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik, Clinton said the Obama administration was committed to pushing intensively to find a way for Israelis and Palestinians to exist peacefully in separate states, and called for urgent action to forge a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace.
In addition to discussing the Palestinian situation, Israel will also present Clinton with a series of "red lines" it wants Washington to incorporate into its planned dialogue with Tehran about Iran's nuclear program.