The Obama administration on Wednesday welcomed Israel's decision to temporarily freeze new construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank as a step toward restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton issued an approving statement moments after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in Jerusalem the launching of a 10-month moratorium.
"Today's announcement by the government of Israel helps move forward toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," Clinton said. "We believe that through good-faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements."
At the State Department, the administration's special envoy for Mideast peace, former Sen. George Mitchell, told a news conference that the Israeli decision could mark a step toward restarting peace talks.
"It falls short of a full settlement freeze, but it is more than any Israeli government has done before and can help movement toward agreement between the parties," Mitchell said.
"While they fall short of a full freeze, we believe the steps announced by the prime minister are significant and could have substantial impact on the ground," he added. "For the first time ever an Israeli government will stop housing approvals and all new construction of housing units and related infrastructure in West Bank settlements. That's a positive development."
"Nothing like this occurred during the Bush administration," he added later.
Mitchell said he would return to the Mideast "in the near future" to resume his efforts to win agreement from the Israelis and Palestinians to return to the negotiating table. He said that although the two sides have failed to resume bargaining, he has no intention of giving up his efforts to revive talks and remains confident that they eventually will succeed.
"As President Obama has said many times, we believe that a two-state solution to the conflict is the best way to realize the shared goal of Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security," Mitchell said. "It is also in the national security interest of the United States. It is urgently needed."