MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC today. She reassured the thousands gathered in Washington that the U.S. is committed to Israel's security. But she also repeated U.S. concerns about Israeli building projects on land that the Palestinians hope will be part of their future state. Clinton said such actions undermine U.S. efforts to promote peace.
NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN: The Obama administration has been trying to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and Secretary Clinton told AIPAC today that Israel is endangering the peace process by announcing new construction in East Jerusalem, in part of the city that Palestinians claim is their future capital.
Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): It is our devotion to this outcome two states for two peoples, secure and at peace that led us to condemn the announcement of plans for new construction in east Jerusalem.
This was not about wounded pride, nor is it a judgment on the final status of Jerusalem, which is an issue to be settled at the negotiating table. This is about getting to the table, creating and protecting an atmosphere of trust around it, and staying there until the job is finally done.
KELEMEN: She reassured thousands of people at AIPAC that she's talking about this because the U.S. is committed to Israel's security.
Sec. CLINTON: For President Obama and for me, and for this entire administration, our commitment to Israel's security and Israel's future is rock solid, unwavering, enduring and forever.
KELEMEN: Many in the audience felt relieved. Jacob Buksbaum and his wife, who came down from New York for the AIPAC policy conference, had been worried about the Obama administration's very public criticism of Israel.
Mr. JACOB BUKSBAUM: I think theyre moving beyond it, and I think theyre giving it a very effective public cover. And whatever happens, it'll be done in private with Netanyahu and Obama - in camera, as it were.
KELEMEN: The Israeli prime minister is meeting with President Obama tomorrow, though Netanyahu has already made clear that Israel has no intention of halting construction projects in Jerusalem.
Last year, he announced a partial moratorium on settlement building in the occupied West Bank. Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz points out that moratorium never covered Jerusalem. And he said that fact was missing from Clintons speech - which he otherwise liked.
Professor ALAN DERSHOWITZ (Law, Harvard University): What she failed to say, which I think is very important, is that the United States made an agreement with Israel, under which Israel agreed not to stop building in east Jerusalem. And Hillary Clinton and President Obama praised Netanyahu for an agreement which did not include Jerusalem.
KELEMEN: The conference was not without its political theater. Dershowitz drew a crowd when he got in a heated debate with a representative of J Street, a pro-Israel lobby that supports the Obama administration's tough line on settlements.
And outside the Washington Convention Center, a few protesters wore cardboard apartment blocks with signs that read: Build settlements, wreck peace.
(Soundbite of protest)
Unidentified Group: Build settlements, wreck peace.
KELEMEN: Ben Wikler, a spokesman for the advocacy group Avaaz.org, says Netanyahu's settlement policy is undermining chances for a two-state solution, a viable Palestinian state living side by side with Israel.
Mr. BEN WIKLER (Spokesman, Avaaz.org): You know, most Americans support Israel, they support peace, and they support President Obama on peace in Israel. There's just a strong consensus in the U.S. and around the world - and a significant part of Israel itself - that thinks that every time a settlement goes up, the hopes for peace go down.
KELEMEN: Other protesters released a hoax press release today, under AIPAC's name, that called for a settlement freeze. AIPAC was quick to call it a fake.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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