October 11, 2011 / 9:43 PM / 6 years ago

Clinton makes push for fresh Mideast talks

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Palestinians’ push for U.N. membership is not going anywhere for now, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday, arguing that they should resume peace talks with Israel quickly.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a joint news conference at the Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations at The Presidio San Francisco, California September 15, 2011. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

Clinton told Reuters many nations were making the case to the Palestinians that their formal letter delivered on September 23 seeking U.N. membership would not give them a state and that the only viable path was direct negotiations with Israel.

“It’s not going anywhere for the foreseeable future, and even if it were, you are not going to get a state through the U.N. It’s not going to happen,” Clinton said, describing what called “the right case” being made to the Palestinians.

“So you have done what you needed to do to signal your seriousness of purpose, now get back into negotiations where you can actually start talking about borders,” she added.

U.S.-brokered peace talks collapsed a year ago after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month limited moratorium on construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has conditioned a return to negotiations on a settlement freeze and applied last month for full Palestinian membership of the United Nations, a move opposed by both the United States and Israel.

HOPE FOR TALKS BY END OF OCTOBER

U.S. officials had hoped to head off the Palestinian request for U.N. membership. But when they realized this was not possible, they sought to provide a pathway back to peace negotiations to end the more than six-decade conflict.

The Quartet of the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States on September 23 issued a statement calling for the two sides to hold a preliminary meeting within a month that would lead to full-fledged peace negotiations.

The proposal under discussion would have the two sides gather in Jordan, which along with Egypt is one of only two Arab states to make peace with Israel, on October 23.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland earlier on Tuesday said the United States was “very hopeful” that they would agree to do so but Clinton herself was more circumspect.

“I am not saying that there is going to be some immediate, positive response,” she said. “But hearing this from so many different places really makes a difference ... . I am hoping that by the end of the month we will see a meeting between them.”

It is unclear whether the two sides are willing to compromise over the central issue that caused talks to break down more than a year ago -- Israel’s construction of Jewish settlements on West Bank land.

On Monday Netanyahu’s office said he was willing to meet Palestinian leaders to try to restart peace talks but he has given no hint of a willingness to halt settlement building.

‘SIGNIFICANT PROBLEMS’

The Palestinians’ effort to seek full U.N. membership is being considered by the U.N. Security Council, but it is bound to fail there because of a U.S. threat to veto it.

However, the Palestinians are making inroads elsewhere in the U.N. system. On October 5 the board of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted to let its 193 member countries vote on Palestinian admission this month.

A vote in favor, which appears likely despite U.S. and Israeli opposition, would automatically trigger a cutoff in U.S. funding for the agency under U.S. law. The United States provides 22 percent of the agency’s funding.

Clinton said that she has made the case to U.S. lawmakers that the U.S. government should have the flexibility to decide whether or not to cut off such agencies if they take in the Palestinians.

“There are significant problems if this begins to cascade. What happens with the International Atomic Energy Agency? What happens with the World Health Organization? What happens with the food and agriculture organization?” she asked.

Saying the United States provides between 20 percent and 25 percent of these agencies funding, Clinton argued that stopping U.S. support could make it hard to prevent pandemics, provide food aid to the starving and promote nuclear nonproliferation.

“I am strongly making the case to members of Congress that at some point we need some flexibility because pretty soon ... if we don’t pay into these organizations, we lose our right to participate and influence their actions,” she added.

Editing by Xavier Briand

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