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December 2, 2012

U.S. struggles to get Israel and Palestinians to talks

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration sought Friday to direct Israel and the Palestinians back toward direct peace talks, even as the two sides and much of the world seemed to be ignoring the U.S. attempts at leadership on a Mideast peace strategy.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met senior Israeli and Palestinian officials Friday, with each side locked in a pattern of actions that the United States had expressly warned against: the Palestinians winning U.N. recognition of their claim to a state on Thursday and the Israelis retaliating Friday by approving 3,000 new homes on Israeli-occupied territory.

The administration has campaigned for nearly two years to prevent the Palestinian action at the United Nations, fearful it would anger Israel so much that the resumption of direct talks between the Jewish state and Palestinians would be impossible. The administration remains concerned as well that statehood could mean International Criminal Court action against Israeli soldiers for their conduct in Palestinian or disputed territory — a scenario Washington believes would greatly debilitate peace hopes.

“We have to convince Palestinians that direct negotiations with Israel represent not just the best but the only path to the independent state they deserve,” Clinton said Friday night in a speech at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington. “America supports the goal of a Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security with Israel. But this week’s vote at the U.N. won’t bring Palestinians any closer, and it may bring new challenges for the United Nations system and for Israel.”

Most of the world’s governments brushed aside Israeli and American concerns, with U.N. member states voting 138-9 to recognize Palestine as a nonmember observer state and grant it the most significant upgrade in diplomatic status in its more than six-decades of conflict with Israel. The United States insists that the result has changed nothing on the ground, but it is struggling to shift the focus to where it believes progress on an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is possible.

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