Mitchell, Clinton Welcome Israel Settlement Moratorium

Mitchell says move can help relaunch peace talks, but falls short of full settlement freeze.

The Obama administration welcomed Israel's decision Wednesday to freeze new construction in settlements in the West Bank temporarily as a step toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton issued a statement of approval moments after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in Jerusalem the launching of a 10-month moratorium on settlements in the West Bank.

"Today's announcement by the government of Israel helps move forward toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," Clinton said.

She said the United States believes that through good-faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome that ends the conflict.

This would reconcile "the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements."

Clinton added: "Let me say to all the people of the region and world: our commitment to achieving a solution with two states living side by side in peace and security is unwavering."

At the State Department, the administration's special envoy for Middle East peace, former Sen. George Mitchell, told a news conference that the Israeli decision could mark a step toward restarting peace talks.

"It falls short of a full settlement freeze, but it is more than any Israeli government has done before and can help movement toward agreement between the parties," Mitchell said.

"Nothing like this occurred during the Bush administration," he added later.

Mitchell said he would return to the region in the near future to resume his efforts to win agreement from the Israelis and Palestinians to return to the negotiating table.