SHANNON, Ireland — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that the "time is ripe" for Mideast peace, but that without face-to-face talks Israel can't expect lasting security and the Palestinians can't create an independent state.
Clinton spoke with reporters during a flight from Washington to Egypt for the latest round of the current Mideast peace talks, which began Sept. 2.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are expected to meet today in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh before shifting their talks to Jerusalem on Wednesday. Clinton and former Sen. George Mitchell, President Barack Obama's special envoy to the region, plan to join the talks.
Obama has framed Clinton's task for this week's meetings as an effort to get Israeli and Palestinian leaders to focus on how each can help the other succeed rather than figuring out a way for the other to fail.
But the most immediate obstacle for negotiators is a Palestinian demand that Israel extend a curb on new housing construction in the West Bank, a constraint that Israel says will expire Sept. 26.
Clinton said Monday the Obama administration believes Israel should extend the moratorium, but she also said it would take an effort by both sides to find a way around the problem.
Obama increased the pressure last week, saying Friday that he had urged Netanyahu to extend the partial moratorium as long as talks were making progress. Obama also said he had told Abbas that if he showed he is serious about negotiating, it would give political maneuvering room to Netanyahu on the settlement issue.
On Sunday, Netanyahu seemed to reject a total freeze on construction, saying a Palestinian demand for no construction will not happen. He said Israel will not build thousands of planned homes, but without providing details or a time line, he added: "We will not freeze the lives of the residents."
The Palestinians, meanwhile, insist that Israel must extend the moratorium.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Monday there are no "half solutions" in the dispute. "Either there is a halt to settlement building or there is not," Erekat told reporters in Sharm el-Sheikh.
Although some analysts caution that any peace deal faces daunting obstacles, Clinton has said an initial round of talks in Washington on Sept. 2 generated some momentum. They were the first face-to-face talks between the two sides in nearly two years.