WASHINGTON, Jan 29, 2013 (AFP) – The outcome of Israel’s elections did not torpedo hopes for peace with the Palestinians, but instead opened up a new chance for dialogue, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton argued Tuesday.
“I actually think this election opens doors, not nails them shut,” she said, during a so-called “global townhall” meeting, in which she took questions from Internet-users and broadcasters around the world.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Beitenu list emerged from last week’s vote with the biggest single share of seats in the Knesset, but was weakened by a surge in support for Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party.
Party leaders are negotiating a new coalition, which is expected to have a center-right bent, and the talks are being watched for signs as to whether it will be able to revive the Middle East peace process.
According to Israeli reports, Netanyahu has offered Lapid the post of foreign minister or finance minister in a new government. And while Lapid has rarely spoken about foreign policy challenges or the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, he has said he favors negotiations.
Clinton, in one her final public engagements before she steps down from US President Barack Obama’s administration, chose to strike an optimistic note.
She said: “A significant percentage of the Israeli electorate chose to express themselves by saying, ‘We need a different path than the one we have been pursuing internally and with respect to the Middle East peace process.’
“So I know President Obama and my successor soon-to-be secretary of state John Kerry will pursue this, will look for every possible opening.”
As Clinton was speaking, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee gave its backing to Kerry’s appointment, clearing the way for the full Senate to confirm him as her successor later in the day.
Last week, in his confirmation hearings, Kerry appeared to hint he may have new proposals up his sleeve to restart direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians which have stalled for more than two years.
“We need to try to find a way forward, and I happen to believe that there is a way forward,” he said.
“But I also believe that if we can’t be successful that the door, or window, or whatever you want to call it, to the possibility of a two-state solution could shut on everybody and that would be disastrous in my judgment.”
Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have theoretically committed themselves to the goal of a “two-state solution” with both living side-by-side within agreed borders.
But direct talks have foundered, with Palestinians decrying ongoing Israeli settlement building on occupied territory and Israel denouncing rocket attacks on its civilians from Gaza, which is controlled by the Hamas militia.
Clinton told the Washingon townhall meeting that she believed “Hamas is not interested in democracy… is still largely a military resistance group.”
But she added: “We’ve made it very clear that if Hamas renounces violence, if they morph themselves into a political entity the way that Fatah and the Palestinian Authority have from the origins in the PLO, if they accept the previous commitments… there’s a place for them at the table. And it would be my great hope that they would do that.”
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