June 5, 2009 / 9:28 PM / 11 years ago

Clinton dismisses Israeli argument on settlements

By Arshad Mohammed

WASHINGTON, June 5 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dismissed on Friday arguments that Israel and the Bush administration had an understanding under which Israel could keep expanding Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

Clinton’s hard line suggests President Barack Obama has no intention of relenting on his call for a settlement freeze by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose fragile, two-month old government could fall if he heeded it.

The United States wants Israel to keep its commitment under the 2003 "road map" peace plan to halt all settlement activity, including so-called "natural growth," under which new homes are built within existing enclaves for growing settler families.

Netanyahu on Monday defied the U.S. demand, saying Israel would keep building in existing settlements on territory Israel occupied during the 1967 Middle East war.

Dov Weisglass, chief of staff to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said in an op-ed piece published this week in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot that the Bush administration and Israel had an understanding under which Israel could expand settlements within their existing boundaries.

Speaking to reporters in Washington, Clinton sought to undercut his argument, saying there was no acknowledgment of any such agreement in the official negotiating record between Israel and the Bush administration.

"There is no memorialization of any informal and oral agreements. If they did occur, which of course people say they did, they did not become part of the official position of the United States government," Clinton said at a news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

"And there are contrary documents that suggest that they were not to be viewed as in any way contradicting the obligations that Israel undertook pursuant to the road map." she added. "And those obligations are very clear." (Editing by Peter Cooney)




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