WASHINGTON (CNN) – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday Israel must halt settlement activity and Arab nations must move toward peace with Israel as the Obama administration prepares to lay out its vision for the Mideast.
"It is clear that the settlement activity has to cease," Clinton said in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Her comments come on the heels of a visit to Washington this week by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and in advance of a visit next week by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak also was scheduled to visit Washington next week but postponed his trip Wednesday after the death of his grandson.
After the series of meetings, President Barack Obama is expected to lay out his vision for Mideast peace negotiations when he addresses the Muslim world in a speech in Cairo next month.
Clinton said that during Netanyahu's visit, she and Obama reaffirmed the administration's desire for a two-state solution and emphasized negotiations on a deal must must begin with an end to settlement activity.
Not only does settlement activity "change the reality" on the ground, which in turn interferes with negotiations on a final peace deal, it also is "a matter of great symbolic concern" to the Arab world.
Clinton told Senators the United States is trying to advance the Arab Peace Initiative. The plan, proposed by then-Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah in 2003 and endorsed by the Arab league, envisions all Arab states normalizing relations with Israel after Israel returns all territory it considers occupied Arab land.
The Obama administration, Clinton said, wants both Israel and the Arabs to both take interim "confidence-building steps," including recognition of Israel's right to exist and economic exchanges between Israel and Arab nations.
CNN has previously reported the United States has suggested that if Israel takes steps to halt settlement activity or removes outposts, the Arabs should take moves such as opening trade offices in Israel or allowing telecommunications and air travel between Israel and Arab countries.
Clinton said Mideast envoy George Mitchell has "a long list" of the "kinds of actions being sought," but she added the steps would be the product of "intense negotiations" between the United States and Arab states, which will begin next week.
"There is openness to proceeding, but it is an openness that requires on all sides an evidence of good faith and putting ideas down on the table which people can evaluate," Clinton said.
She said Arabs share Israel's concern about Iran's nuclear ambitions, presenting an opportunity for cooperation.
"At this time in history there is a meeting of the minds of the threat posed by Iran and the importance of working in tandem," she said. "But ... in order for us to move forward, it cannot be either or."
The international community, she said, must work on both the Iran situation and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the same time, "and that is what we intend to do."