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U.S.: Israel settlement plans hurt our peacemaker role

WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton accused Israel of undermining U.S. credibility as a Mideast peacemaker Monday on the eve of critical talks between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel recently announced new housing plans for east Jerusalem, an expansion the Obama administration has strongly criticized. Clinton renewed that disapproval, telling a pro-Israel audience that provocative Israeli land policies in areas claimed by the Palestinians are not in Israel's long-term interests.

Undeterred, Netanyahu planned to take a firm stand regarding Jerusalem, stressing in a speech Monday night that the city is Israel's capital, "not a settlement," government spokesman Mark Regev said.

At the same time both sides appeared to be indicating that while differences may remain, the spat, unique in recent memory for its harsh rhetoric and public nature, was behind them.

In her speech, Clinton assured Israel that the Obama administration's commitment to the Mideast nation's security and future is "rock-solid." And after she met Netanyahu later Monday, Israeli officials termed the talks "friendly" and said both nations were interested in moving past the rift and getting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks started quickly.

Netanyahu was to speak Monday night to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which Clinton addressed earlier.

The spread of Jewish homes on land claimed by the Palestinians threatens the Obama administration's first attempts at shuttle diplomacy intended to establish an independent Palestinian state, Clinton said, and makes it hard for the United States to be an honest broker.

"Our credibility in this process depends in part on our willingness to praise both sides when they are courageous, and when we don't agree, to say so, and say so unequivocally," Clinton said.

She also criticized Palestinian incitements to violence.

Obama has remained out of the fray as Clinton and other U.S. officials have rebuked Israel for a particularly large housing announcement that seemed timed to embarrass the United States and perhaps to smother the new talks with a U.S. go-between before they began.

The talks would be the first formal peace efforts since the election of a Democratic administration in Washington and a hawkish one in Israel.

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