Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reaffirmed the U.S position on Israeli settlement building to worried Arab allies on Wednesday. She said that Washington does not accept the legitimacy of the West Bank enclaves and wants to see their construction halted "forever."
Still, she said an Israeli offer to restrain — but not halt — construction represents "positive movement forward" toward resuming Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
Clinton met for an hour with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during a hastily arranged stopover in the Egyptian capital to soothe Arab concerns that Washington is backing off demands for an Israeli settlement halt. The fears were sparked on Saturday when Clinton, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at her side in Jerusalem, praised his government's offer as unprecedented.
She has since tried to clarify the remarks, saying that the Israeli offer does not got far enough. Still, she has indicated that the Palestinians should resume negotiations with Israel without a full settlement halt as they demand, The Associated Press reports.
It was also reported, the meeting with Hosni Mubarak came just days after she praised an Israeli proposal for a moratorium which would halt the building of new settlements, but leave many of those already under construction unaffected.
Clinton had called the Israeli plan "unprecedented" and said that Washington's demand for a full settlement freeze was not a precondition for talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
A spokesman for Abbas condemned the remarks and said the US had failed to put enough pressure on Israel to abandon the completion of settlements already under construction or for which permits had been granted.
Meanwhile, Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said on Wednesday that Israel is continuing to move ahead with plans to multiply settlement activity, Aljazeera.net reports.
Egypt has been attempting to broker a unity deal between the rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas.
On Saturday, Mrs Clinton met Mr Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in a visit seen as intending to shore up attempts to restart peace talks, BBC News reports.