Clinton holds Gaza talks, vows to move Middle East to ‘comprehensive peace’

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed to rekindle efforts to attain a “comprehensive peace” in the Middle East ahead of a meeting Tuesday evening with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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Clinton arrived in Jerusalem late Tuesday to help broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and avoid a ground invasion of the densely packed coastal strip. She is scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi on Wednesday.

In a statement delivered alongside Netanyahu, Clinton said President Obama had sent her to deliver the “very clear message” that “America's commitment to Israel's security is rock-solid and unwavering.”

But she also acknowledged that the cycle of violence can only end with a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. 

“In the end,” Clinton said, “there is no substitute for security and for a just and lasting peace. And the current crisis certainly focuses us on the urgency of this broader goal. 

“So, in the days ahead, the United States will work with our partners here in Israel and across the region toward an outcome that bolsters security for the people of Israel, improves conditions for the people of Gaza, and moves toward a comprehensive peace for all people of the region.”

Clinton stopped short of laying out a process for renewing formal peace talks, however. 

Obama sought to rekindle Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations early in his first term, but those efforts quickly unraveled over the issue of Israeli settlements and borders. 

The issue has found new-found urgency with Abbas vowing to pursue statehood at the United Nations later this month, a move opposed by Israel and the United States.

Earlier Tuesday, Morsi, whom the administration has pressed to stem attacks from Hamas on Israel, had predicted an end to the violence soon.

“The efforts to conclude a truce between the Palestinian and Israeli sides will produce positive results in the next few hours,” Morsi said, according to Egypt's MENA news agency.

Morsi's statement came as Obama on Tuesday talked to the Egyptian leader for the third time in 24 hours while flying home from his trip to Asia.

"It was an opportunity for them to continue the discussions they’ve been having and to speak in advance of Secretary Clinton’s arrival in the region," Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters traveling with the president. 

"President Obama underscored once again the importance of working for a de-escalation to the conflict in Gaza. He commended President Morsi’s efforts to pursue a de-escalation. And he also underscored that President Morsi’s efforts reinforce the important role that President Morsi and Egypt play on behalf of regional security and the pursuit of broader peace between the Palestinians and Israelis."

While in the Middle East, Clinton will not speak to representatives from Hamas, Rhodes said. 

“The United States does not engage directly with Hamas. Hamas has not met the conditions that we’ve set for many years — to renounce terrorism, to recognize Israel’s right to exist and to abide by pre-existing agreements. So we do not engage directly with Hamas,” said Rhodes.

Israel began launching air attacks against Hamas targets in Gaza last week after a recent uptick in rockets fired by the terror group into Israeli territory. Hamas leaders responded with further rocket attacks as Israeli officials said they were considering a ground offensive.

“Ultimately, it’s going to have to be Hamas within Gaza that takes a step of not pursuing rocket fire on Israeli territory. But we believe that Egypt can and should be a partner in seeking to bring about that outcome,” said Rhodes.