The United States does not accept continued Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank, a senior U.S. state department official has said, adding that Jerusalem's commitment to restrain settlement activity is not enough.
In an address to the Middle East Institute, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William J. Burns on Tuesday said that the Obama administration does not "accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements."
"We consider the Israeli offer to restrain settlement activity to be a potentially important step, but it obviously falls short of the continuing Roadmap obligation for a full settlement freeze," he said.
The under secretary said the goal of the Obama administration was to achieve "two states living side by side in peace and security."
"A Jewish state of Israel, with which America retains unbreakable bonds, and with true security for all Israelis; and a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967, that ends the daily humiliations of Palestinians under occupation, and that realizes the full and remarkable potential of the Palestinian people," he told the Washington D.C.-based institute.
Burns's comments came despite Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's praise for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's willingness to restrain settlement construction as "unprecedented in the context of prior to negotiations."
She made the statement during a joint press conference with the premier in Jerusalem.
Palestinian officials had said in talks with U.S. diplomats earlier this week in Ramallah, that nothing short of an Israeli commitment to a complete settlement freeze would bring PA President Mahmoud Abbas to reconsider his recently made threats of resignation.
In his speech Tuesday, Burns also said that U.S. pressure on both sides was the only way to restart negotiations, saying that "persistent, hard-headed, day-in-and-day-out, high-level American engagement has also been a critical ingredient for success, from Henry Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy, to Jimmy Carter at Camp David, to Jim Baker on the road to Madrid."
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