WASHINGTON, March 16 (Andrew Quinn-Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday hailed the 'unshakeable bond' between the United States and Israel in an effort to quell the diplomatic spat that has rocked ties between Washington and its closest Middle East ally.
'We have an absolute commitment to Israel's security. We have a close, unshakeable bond between the United States and Israel,' Clinton told a news briefing.
Her comments marked a turn after days of tough US talk following Israel's announcement last week that it would approve construction of a housing project in East Jerusalem, a move which infuriated the Palestinians and put hopes for resumption of Middle East peace talks on hold.
The US secretary of state, who last week called Israel's announcement 'insulting', on Tuesday brushed away suggestions that the US-Israeli relationship was in the midst of its worst crisis in decades.
'We share common values and a commitment to a democratic future for the world, and we are both committed to a two-state solution' for Israel and the Palestinians, she said. 'But that doesn't mean that we are going to agree. We don't agree with any of our international partners on everything.'
Clinton said that, while the United States had expressed 'dismay and disappointment' over the Israeli announcement, it was now time to move forward with a visit by US Middle East envoy George Mitchell -- although she declined to say when exactly that might take place.
'I think we'll see what the next days hold and we're looking forward to Senator Mitchell returning to the region and beginning the proximity talks,' Clinton said.
MITCHELL COULD LEAVE ON TUESDAY
Mitchell had been due to leave again for the region on Monday to continue indirect negotiations with Israel and the Palestinians, but US officials said that trip was temporarily on hold as the schedule is worked out.
Mitchell could leave on Tuesday, but US officials said this was still up in the air.
The United States hopes the indirect talks will be a first step toward resuming direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians that have been on hold for more than year.
Palestinians staged violent demonstrations in Jerusalem on Tuesday. Hundreds of rock-throwing Palestinians clashed with police in several locations in East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in a 1967 war. Israeli Police responded with teargas and rubber bullets.
US officials have said Washington has asked Netanyahu's government to take steps -- albeit unspecified -- to publicly demonstrate its commitment to the peace process, and Clinton on Tuesday said these discussions were continuing.
'We know how hard this is. This is a very difficult, complex matter,' Clinton said. 'Our goal now is to make sure that we have the full commitment from both our Israeli and Palestinian partners.'