Israel making 'unprecedented' concessions: Clinton

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says Israel is making "unprecedented" concessions on West Bank settlement construction.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says Israel is making "unprecedented" concessions on West Bank settlement construction.

Palestinian leaders have said they will not return to peace talks with Israel unless it halts all settlement building on lands they claim for a future state, and they believe Israel has defied a U.S. demand for a settlement freeze.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday, Clinton said Israel is putting significant limits on settlement activity.

"What the prime minister has offered in specifics on restraints on a policy of settlements ... is unprecedented," she said.

The issue of settlements has become the biggest sticking point in getting Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table. Clinton said she wasn't pleased with Israeli settlement construction but that was no reason to hold up talks.

"There are always demands made in any negotiation that are not going to be fully realized," she said.

Clinton also agreed with a statement by Netanyahu that Palestinians had never demanded a settlement freeze in the past as a condition for sitting down with Israel.

Departure in tone

Her comments appeared to represent a significant departure in tone from her previous statements demanding a total Israeli settlement freeze, without exception. Israel has been resisting that demand for months and has given no indication it would be willing to call a total freeze.

But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is sticking to his refusal to resume negotiations until Israel stops building settlements. Abbas is fighting a perception among his people that he repeatedly caves in to U.S. demands.

Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh, responding to Clinton's comments, said, "There can be no excuse for the continuation of settlements, which is really the main obstacle in the way of any credible peace process.

"Israel is not interested in stopping its settlement activities and the American administration didn't succeed in convincing the Israeli government to stop these activities," he said.

"There should be a real change in the Israeli position toward this issue in order for the peace process to be restarted."