US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held talks Monday evening with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the end of a day of meetings with Israel’s leaders on Iran, Palestinian peacemaking and America’s desire to see Israel heal its ties with Turkey.
Clinton reportedly urged Netanyahu to mend ties with Turkey and make moves to jump start peace talks with the Palestinian Authority.
The US secretary of state, in Israel as the last leg of a tour through Asia, also told Netanyahu that Jerusalem should transfer small arms to the PA in order to help get the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, according to Ynet news. She also called on Netanyahu to release Palestinian prisoners. Both moves have been mentioned as Palestinian prerequisites for coming back to talks.
Negotiations with the PA have been frozen since 2010 as Ramallah has also demanded a freeze on settlement construction before returning to the table.
Clinton reportedly told Netanyahu he should hurry to achieve peace with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, since it was not clear who would replace them.
Clinton held a joint press conference with Netanyahu at the end of their session.
The stateswoman has been urging Israel at her meetings to work to improve relations with Ankara — which have been dire since Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish nationals who attacked them as they commandeered a Turkish vessel, the Mavi Marmara, that was en route to break the sea blockade of Gaza in May 2010. Clinton, Israeli sources said Monday night, has been telling the Israelis that terrorist groups are exploiting the hostility between the two countries, and that the collapsed relationship damages Israeli and American strategic interests.
She reportedly encouraged Israel to apologize over the Mavi Marmara fatalities, noting that Turkey was a regional asset and that the ongoing dispute with Israel was undermining international unity in the effort to thwart Iran’s nuclear drive.
Before the meeting Netanyahu told Clinton he looked forward to hearing her impressions on Egypt. “That has been an anchor of peace and maintaining the peace treaty between us, I think, is something that is uppermost in both our minds, and I appreciate the efforts that you’re investing to this end.”
Netanyahu said Palestinian peacemaking efforts and stopping Iran’s nuclear program would also be discussed.
Clinton said Washington would remain close with Jerusalem on the rapidly evolving issues.
“We’re living in a time of unprecedented change with a lot of challenges for us both and we will continue to consult closely as we have on an almost daily basis between our two governments to chart the best way forward for peace and stability, for Israel, the United States, the region and the world, and we’re all delighted to be here with you,” she said.
Earlier, Clinton met at her Jerusalem hotel with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The PA has been talking about again seeking UN recognition of a unilaterally declared Palestinian state; the US has been urging the PA not to do so. The PA is also seeking assistance to meet its financial difficulties. Here, it is understood, the US is looking for ways to help.
Clinton also met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, where, as in her session with Netanyahu, the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program topped the agenda. “The Americans consistently and constantly backup Israel’s security needs,” Barak said before the meeting.
“We see eye to eye on many issues. On some topics we have certain differences, but these differences are put into perspective in view of the enormous importance of the US in the region, as well as the unique status and sensitiveness of Israel in the region,” he added.
Earlier in the day Clinton met with President Shimon Peres, stressing the need for cooperation in tumultuous times.
“I always benefit from your advice,” Clinton told her host during their meeting at the President’s Residence. “This is a time of uncertainty, but also opportunity. It is at times like this that friends such as us need to think together, to act together. We have a calling to be wise, creative, and brave, and no one understands that better than President Shimon Peres.”
Peres responded by describing Clinton as the “wind of freedom blowing through the world” and thanked her for her efforts in mediating negotiations with the Palestinians in which the US, he said, plays a critical role. The president also warned against losing sight of peace with the Palestinians as attention is focused on Iran.
Peres distinguished between the Iranian regime — heading toward nuclear arms and terror and posing a threat to Jews and Arabs as well as to Europe — and the Iranian people.
“There is a global understanding that Iran must be stopped from endangering the lives of others,” Peres said.
He also voiced support for the Obama administration’s pressure on Iran to halt its nuclear activities — which has sometimes been a point of contention between a cautious US, keen to give negotiations and sanctions time to work, and an Israeli government that has threatened military action.
Peres described the civil war ravaging Syria as a primarily humanitarian, not political, problem.
“It has gone beyond what can be accepted by humanity, regardless of whether you are Christian, Jew, or Arab. It is without precedence. Syria is a member of the Arab League and a member of the United Nations. We need to stop this tragedy as soon as possible. As an Israeli, I want to see Syrian children not living in fear and not being killed by their dictators.”
Peres spoke of the importance of maintaining Israel’s three-decade peace with Egypt.
The president reportedly also discussed with Clinton the matter of releasing Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, though neither addressed the topic in their statements.
Clinton landed in Israel early Monday morning for a two-day visit following a trip to Egypt. She was accompanied by US Middle East envoy David Hale and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, who represents Washington at the talks between world powers and Iran. This is Clinton’s fourth visit to Israel since taking office.
During her meeting with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, protesters called on the US to free Pollard.
Clinton spent the past two days visiting Cairo and meeting with recently elected President Mohammed Morsi and Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi. Clinton asked Morsi to safeguard the rights of women and minorities in Egypt and uphold the peace treaty with Israel, and asked Tantawi to work with the president to advance Egyptian democracy.
White House National Security Adviser Tom Donilon visited Israel on Saturday and Sunday for consultations with his Israeli counterpart Yaakov Amidror and for meetings with Netanyahu and Barak.
National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said that in the meetings, Donilon “reaffirmed the United States’ unwavering commitment to Israel’s security.”
Maariv reported Monday that US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is expected to arrive in Israel later this month.