U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell promised Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that the U.S. will bring a halt to Israeli building in East Jerusalem, a Palestinian official told the newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi on Saturday.
"In a telephone conversation, Mitchell said the U.S. would make sure Israel stops building in the area," the Palestinian official told the London-based Arabic daily newspaper.
The U.S. has recently expressed frustration over Israel's announcement on Tuesday of new settlement construction, a move that deeply embarrassed visiting U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and imperiled U.S. plans to launch indirect negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
In an interview with CNN aired Friday night, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Israel's announcement of new construction of homes in a Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem was "insulting" to the United States.
"I mean, it was just really a very unfortunate and difficult moment for everyone - the United States, our vice president who had gone to reassert our strong support for Israeli security - and I regret deeply that that occurred and made that known," Clinton said during the CNN interview.
While Clinton did not blame Netanyahu personally for the announcement, she said, "He is the prime minister. Like the president or secretary of state...ultimately, you are responsible."
U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Clinton spoke with Netanyahu on the phone and told him the announcement was a "deeply negative signal about Israel's approach to the bilateral relationship...and had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process."
"The secretary said she could not understand how this happened, particularly in light of the United States' strong commitment to Israel's security," Crowley said.
"She made clear that the Israeli government needed to demonstrate not just through words but through specific actions that they are committed to this relationship and to the peace process," he said.
Clinton's rebuke of Netanyahu capped a week of tense exchanges between the United States and Israel, which on Tuesday announced it was building 1,600 new settler homes in an area of the occupied West Bank it annexed to Jerusalem.
The announcement infuriated the West Bank-based Palestinian leadership, which threatened to pull out of U.S.-brokered indirect "proximity" talks with Israel that Washington hoped would be the first step toward relaunching full peace negotiations after more than a year.
Another senior U.S. official said Friday that Netanyahu's political standing is "perilous" because of divisions within his coalition over efforts to pursue peace with the Palestinians.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, predicted "a dicey period here in the next couple days to a couple of weeks" as Washington tries to get the indirect talks launched.
Quartet condemns Israel: Unilateral action cannot prejudge talks' outcome
In addition to the U.S. condemnation of Israel's announcement, the Quartet of Middle East peacemakers also condemned on Friday Israel's announcement approving new construction in east Jerusalem.
"The Quartet condemns Israel's decision to advance planning for new housing units in east Jerusalem," the statement said. "The Quartet has agreed to closely monitor developments in Jerusalem and to keep under consideration additional steps that may be required to address the situation on the ground."
"Unilateral action by the Israelis or Palestinians cannot prejudge the outcome of (peace) negotiations and will not be recognized by the international community," the statement said.
"The Quartet will take full stock of the situation at its meeting in Moscow on March 19," the statement said.
The Quartet called on all concerned to support the urgent resumption of dialogue between the parties and to promote an atmosphere that is conducive to successful negotiations to resolve all outstanding issues of the conflict.
The group reiterated that Arab-Israeli peace and the establishment of an independent, contiguous and viable state of Palestine is in the fundamental interests of the parties, of all states in the region, and of the international community.
ADL 'stunned' by U.S. condemnation of Israel
The U.S. based Anti-Defamation League said late Friday that it was "stunned" by Clinton's "dressing down" of Israel.
"We cannot remember an instance when such harsh language was directed at a friend and ally of the United States," said Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), in a statement.
The ADL called Clinton's remarks a "gross overreaction" to a "policy difference among friends."
"One can only wonder how far the U.S. is prepared to go in distancing itself from Israel in order to placate the Palestinians in the hope they see it is in their interest to return to the negotiating table," Foxman said.
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