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Palestinians blast Clinton for Israel praise

Secretary of State Clinton meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas before flying to Israel for meetings.
Secretary of State Clinton meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas before flying to Israel for meetings.
  • Palestinian leaders question Secretary of State's ability to jumpstart peace talks
  • Hillary Clinton met with President Mahmoud Abbas before flying to Israel to meet with Israeli leaders
  • Debate is over Israeli construction on Palestinian land in West Bank, East Jerusalem

Jerusalem (CNN) -- Palestinian leaders angrily dismissed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's praise for Israel on Sunday, openly questioning her ability to jumpstart peace talks just hours after she left Israel.

Clinton had called Israel's position on settlements "unprecedented" during a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat rejected her comment Sunday in a strongly worded statement.

"What the Israelis are offering is not unprecedented," he said. "What would be unprecedented is a comprehensive settlement freeze by Israel... and a halt to Israeli policies in occupied East Jerusalem such as home demolitions, evictions and rapid settlement expansion."

The debate is over Israeli construction on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank and predominantly Palestinian East Jerusalem.

"Without a settlement freeze and the eventual dismantlement of settlements, there will be no Palestinian state to negotiate and no two-state solution left to speak of," Erakat said.

Clinton on Saturday praised Israel for "restraint" in its settlement policy, but Erakat said that did not go far enough.

"If America cannot get Israel to implement a settlement freeze, what chance do Palestinians have of reaching agreement with Israel on permanent status issues," he asked.

He said Israel's position on settlements was nothing "other than a failure of Israel to implement a comprehensive settlement freeze as it is required to do under the 2003 road map. Since 2003, the settler population in the West Bank has increased by 73,000 settlers or 17 percent."

Netanyahu said Sunday he hoped peace talks would resume soon.

"We really hope that the Palestinians will come to their senses and enter the process," he said at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting. "The peace process is important and is an Israeli and Palestinian interest. We hope that, as we are ready to begin the talks without delay, we will find the Palestinians hold a parallel position."

Clinton met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Abu Dhabi before flying Saturday to Israel for meetings with Israeli officials, including Netanyahu.

"I want to see both sides begin [negotiations] as soon as possible," Clinton said Saturday night at a news conference with Netanyahu. "The important thing ... is to get into the negotiations," she said.

"I gave the same message today when I met with President Abbas."

Erakat told CNN Sunday he believed that Abbas was serious about not running for a new term when Palestinians next elect a leader.

"He feels betrayed by Arabs, Israelis, some Palestinians and to a certain extent by the Americans," Erakat told CNN's Christiane Amanpour.

Erakat said Saturday that Abbas wants negotiations to pick up where they left off with former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who stepped down early this year, but that the Israelis do not. That, Erakat said, is evidence that Netanyahu has "no interest" in continuing negotiations.

He characterized the process as "stuck" because of what he said was Netanyahu's lack of desire to restart negotiations.

Earlier this year, the Obama administration called for the Israelis to halt building more housing on land the Palestinians regard as theirs.

However, after meeting last month in New York with Netanyahu and Abbas, President Obama softened his language on a settlement "freeze," saying that Israel has had meaningful discussions about "restraining" settlement activity.

Erakat said Clinton had told Abbas that the settlements were not legitimate but said the United States was unable to persuade Netanyahu's government to commit to a freeze.

Clinton flew Sunday from Israel to Morocco, where she will meet Arab leaders to try to push forward the Middle East peace process.

She is scheduled to meet with Morocco's moderate King Mohammed VI, as well as foreign ministers from around the region. She is also scheduled to deliver a speech on Tuesday.

CNN's Kevin Flower and Shira Medding in Jerusalem and Jill Dougherty in Marrakech, Morocco, contributed to this report.