WASHINGTON Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday she hoped Israeli-Palestinian peace talks will resume soon, taking a more upbeat tone about efforts to end the conflict than typical for U.S. officials.
"We hope that that will commence shortly," Clinton told lawmakers. "We think it's absolutely essential that they begin to talk about the final status issues that divide them ... but we are well aware of the difficulties that confront us."
Negotiations to end the six-decade conflict broke down more than a year ago following Israel's military operation in the Gaza Strip and efforts by U.S. special envoy George Mitchell to get them started yet have so far failed.
The Obama administration last year appeared to abandon its push for Israel to halt all Jewish settlement construction in advance of a start to talks, something Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has demanded.
Abbas has resisted U.S. and other Western pressure to resume negotiations but there have been recent signs of more intense diplomacy to try to get the talks going again.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who says he is ready to talk without conditions, ordered a 10-month freeze on some settlement projects in much of the West Bank. But, in line with Israel's unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem and its suburbs, he has refused to include building there in any settlement pause.
(Editing by Vicki Allen)