Page last updated at 03:17 GMT, Saturday, 9 January 2010

Hillary Clinton sets out US plan for Middle East peace

By Kim Ghattas
BBC state department correspondent

 Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Mrs Clinton was speaking after meeting the Jordanian foreign minister

The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged Palestinians and Israelis to resume peace talks as soon as possible and without preconditions.

The call comes as the Israeli prime minister held talks in Egypt, and the Saudi foreign minister was in Syria.

Mrs Clinton said that if the border issues for a Palestinian state were resolved, that would iron out differences over Israeli settlements.

Her comments came after talks with Jordan's Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.

Mrs Clinton also met Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmad Abulgheith in Washington.

Following the meetings, she gave some details about how the US administration views a peace agreement.

She called for a viable Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines, the year Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza.

This is a crucial starting point for the Palestinians.

She said Israel should have a secure Jewish state that reflects subsequent developments.

In other words, some Israeli settlements on occupied land will remain, a key Israeli demand.

Construction of settlements began in 1967, shortly after the Middle East War
Some 280,000 Israelis now live in the 121 officially-recognised settlements in the West Bank
A further 190,000 Israelis live in settlements in Palestinian East Jerusalem
The largest West Bank settlement is Maale Adumim, where more than 30,000 people were living in 2005
There are a further 102 unauthorised outposts in the West Bank which are not officially recognised by Israel
The population of West Bank settlements has been growing at a rate of 5-6% since 2001
Source: Peace Now

The two parties will want the US to give some guarantees on those two points to entice them to the table.

There's no official word on such guarantees yet, but with these statements, the US secretary of state launched round two of the Obama's administration's push for peace in the Middle East.

Washington clearly didn't win round one.

Last year, all the parties got bogged down in the details of an Israeli settlement freeze and the US was unable to break the deadlock.

The end game remains the same, but the starting point seems to have changed - Washington is now pushing the parties to go straight to talks about borders.

It's not necessarily a recipe for success but Mrs Clinton indicated that dealing with borders would de facto resolve the issue of settlements.

"Resolving borders resolves settlements; resolving Jerusalem resolves settlements," she said.

"We know what a final resolution will have to include: borders, security, Jerusalem, refugees, water. We know what the elements of this two-state solution must include."

Arab countries say they still want to see settlement expansion stop but also acknowledge it is important to find a way around the impasse and get the talks started.

This would provide crucial political backing for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas if he decides to sit at the table.

One senior Arab official suggested that Arab countries were keen to get some momentum on the issue before the US administration becomes too busy dealing with Iran's nuclear programme.

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