At a DC meeting described as ‘tense’ by some in the media, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman publicly clashed on the question of West Bank settlement growth, with Lieberman absolutely ruling out the US demand to freeze all settlement growth.
The major issue which seems to be keeping the two sides apart is the claim that the Bush Administration had secretly made a deal with the Israeli government about the settlements, though it kept no actual record of the deal anywhere. Lieberman cited the deal during the discussion, though Clinton dismissed the reports, claiming former Bush officials had confirmed that no informal agreement existed.
Lieberman insisted that the Israeli government had to ensure natural growth continued in the settlements, citing concerns about the “demographic balance” in the region if the settlements were halted entirely. Clinton insisted that a total freeze was “important and essential.”
Today’s clash stood in stark contrast to yesterday’s comments, in which Israeli officials claimed the Obama Administration was ‘flexible’ on the demand and was poised to drop the matter in the face of Israeli opposition. Yet Clinton did leave that possibility at least somewhat open, declaring that the process had “just begun” and that critical concerns were yet to be fully explored.