Rice: Time for ‘Palestinian state’ now, describes peace efforts as a top priority
By: MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH AP Writer
By MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH
Associated Press Writer
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — The time has come for establishing a Palestinian state and it’s in the interest of the U.S. to do so, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said today in one of her most forceful statements yet on the issue.
The comments from Rice, after a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, suggested that the Bush administration is determined to try to bridge the wide gaps between Israel and the Palestinians ahead of a U.S.-hosted Mideast conference.
The gathering is expected to take place next month, though a date has not been announced. Moderate Arab countries, whose participation is widely viewed as critical, have not committed to attending.
Standing next to Abbas, Rice defined Palestinian statehood as a U.S. interest.
“Frankly, it’s time for the establishment of a Palestinian state,” Rice said.
“I wanted to say in my own voice to be able to say to as many people as possible that the United States sees the establishment of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution as absolutely essential for the future, not just of Palestinians and Israelis but also for the Middle East and indeed to American interests,” she said. “That’s really a message that I think only I can deliver.”
Tensions arose Sunday when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told his Cabinet that he did not regard a joint declaration of principles for a future peace deal to be a prerequisite for the conference. The Palestinians said that without such a document, they would not attend.
Rice did not say whether she wants the document completed before the conference, set in Annapolis, Md. However, the U.S. has said it wants a substantive working paper dealing with all the key disputes before the start of the conference. The issues include borders, Jerusalem, Israeli settlements and Palestinian refugees.
“We frankly have better things to do than invite people to Annapolis for a photo op,” she said.
She said ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a top priority of the Bush administration.
Rice praised Israel and Palestinians for making their “most serious effort” in years to end the conflict. Olmert and Abbas have held a series of meetings in recent months, and the two sides have appointed negotiating teams to hammer out their joint vision for peace in time for the gathering.
Abbas said he expects the conference to launch Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and that a deadline should be set for completion. However, Israel rejects a timetable and U.S. officials have been cool to the idea.
The Palestinian president said he also asked for U.S. help in halting Israeli settlement expansion and the ongoing construction of Israel’s West Bank separation barrier.
The Palestinians have protested recent Israeli land expropriations for a West Bank road project. They fear the land seizures are meant to tighten Israeli control over strategic West Bank areas near Jerusalem that they claim.
Addressing such concerns, Rice said: “I have said we need to at this particular point in time be certain to avoid any steps that would undermine confidence because the building of confidence is something that takes time.”
Rice is on a four-day shuttle mission, trying to create common ground ahead of the Mideast meeting. A State Department official hinted on Sunday that the conference might be postponed. However, Abbas aides suggested today that the gathering would at most be rescheduled for early December.
Abbas and Rice met for 3 1/2 hours today at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Her trip was briefly delayed by what turned out to be a false security alert. Her convoy stopped at an Israeli fire station after Israeli police said they spotted a suspicious vehicle near a crossing point into the West Bank. The convoy moved on after 15 minutes.
On Sunday, Rice held a first round of talks with Israeli leaders.
Published in The Messenger 10.15.07