International Mideast mediators proposed a meeting between Israel and the Palestinians this month to relaunch stalled peace talks, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday the global spotlight on the conflict should be a catalyst to bring the two sides together.
Clinton said it is not just the Americans and Europeans who are pressing for negotiations and a peace deal that would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state. "The whole world is saying now is the moment," she said.
In an interview with The Associated Press, she said the message from across the globe to the Israelis and Palestinians is: There has to be a way to work out the Palestinian demand for a settlement freeze before negotiations resume and the Israeli demand for no preconditions.
The United States led efforts to achieve Mideast peace for more than two decades but Clinton gave strong backing to recent action by the so-called Quartet of mediators that has been trying since 2002 to promote a settlement. The Quartet includes the United States, but also the United Nations, the European Union and Russia.
On Sept. 23, hours after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas took his people's quest for independence to the United Nations and asked for U.N. membership, the Quartet moved to revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. It set a 30-day deadline for the two sides to hold preliminary talks aimed at resurrecting direct negotiations and called for a peace deal by the end of 2012.
To keep up the momentum, the Quartet wants both sides to meet in Jordan on Oct. 23, the deadline they set for talks to resume.
Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said there would be no decision on whether the Palestinians would attend the meeting until a formal invitation had been received.
The United States insists that a peace agreement must be negotiated between the Israelis and Palestinians and has vowed to veto any U.N. Security Council resolution recommending U.N. membership for the Palestinians.
Clinton was hopeful that negotiations could get back on track.
"I think that the situation has changed from a total paralysis or stagnation between the parties," she said.
That's because the Israelis are saying "they're willing, ready and able to go into negotiations" and Abbas knows that he cannot get a state through the United Nations, she said.
Clinton said reaching a peace agreement will be "really hard under any circumstances."
"But I actually believe that the spotlight that is now shining on this process has the potential for moving both sides in a way that we haven't experienced for quite some time, maybe not since the Camp David effort," she said.
She was referring to the Middle East Peace Summit at the Camp David, Md., presidential retreat in July 2000 when her husband, then-President Bill Clinton, brought then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat together to try to negotiate a final settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
They got close but failed, and Clinton recalled that Arafat called her husband several months after he left office in January 2001 "and said I'm ready to take the deal now."
A decade later, and with the Quartet "playing the leading role ... now there is a common response _ go back to negotiations," she said.
But Clinton conceded that the Quartet could fail.
The Palestinians and Israelis have angered each other in recent weeks _ the Palestinians by requesting U.N. recognition as a state and the Israelis by announcing they would build 1,100 new housing units in east Jerusalem.
Clinton reiterated that the announcement of additional housing "was counterproductive, unhelpful."
But she said she told the Palestinians the best way to end settlement building is to negotiate borders.