Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Rice Meets Harder Lines in Push for Israeli-Palestinian Peace

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Rice Meets Harder Lines in Push for Israeli-Palestinian Peace

Article excerpt

Condoleezza Rice arrived here Tuesday for her 16th visit since becoming America's chief diplomat, this time stressing that the United States has not given up on an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal by year's end.

But since Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed last November to start talks that could lead to a two-state solution, Ms. Rice's job has grown harder by the day. Both sides are heading toward harder- line positions as violence has spiraled recently in Gaza and southern Israel. And so, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas face domestic pressure to guard their people and move slowly toward any agreement.

In Ramallah, after meeting Mr. Abbas, Rice expressed some frustration over the new developments hampering the US peace push. "We have in fact launched a framework, that if the obligations are actually met, it will lead to a point where finally, finally the parties can reach a resolution to their conflict." Asked what it would take to bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, Abbas said there would have to be palpable changes for Palestinians.

"If we have implementation of the road map and a change in facts on the ground, then the negotiations can proceed," he said. "In the midst of aggression, where 120 Palestinians have passed away, including 20 children, the negotiations were suspended as a realistic measure and response to this hostile environment. I call upon on all sides to engage in a cease-fire in preparation for a solid peace process that will lead to a state by the end of 2008."

Rice arrived here after talks in Cairo, during which she worked to bring the Egyptian leadership back into the peace-brokering role it has frequently played when the Israeli-Palestinian process hit rough waters. Any road to a cease-fire seems to run through Cairo, in large part because none of the other parties involved - neither the US, the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority (PA), nor Israel - is on speaking terms with Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip last summer.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit told reporters there were ongoing efforts to reach "a cease-fire and a period of calm," adding that Israel must stop using "excessive force" in Gaza.

Rice emphasized a different point of view, saying that Hamas must end its rocket attacks on Israel. She also said that while Israel has a right to defend itself, it should take care to avoid harming innocent civilians and avoid further suffering.

The different stresses in the messages of Mr. Aboul Gheit and Rice only served to underscore the challenges of trying to lure Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table when both peoples feel under siege.

As more rockets fell on Sderot, in southern Israel, Tuesday, one of them making a direct hit on a home whose inhabitants were out at the time, there seemed to be little enthusiasm among Israelis for negotiations and more interest in discussing war strategy.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak is floating a plan to force residents of the northern end of Gaza to move south, out of their homes, allowing the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to declare the region - regularly used by Palestinian militants as a launchpad for sending rockets into Israel - a closed military war zone. And Palestinians also showed a dwindling amount of support for peace talks with Israel. Two Palestinians were killed in Israelis airstrikes in Gaza Tuesday. Moreover, even leaders in the Fatah Party - ostensibly the supporters of Abbas - tried to step in on his decision-making powers and said he shouldn't rush back to peace talks with Israel.

"Nobody in Fatah is happy with the negotiations or the way they are conducted. We have voiced our criticism to [Abbas], and the one thing we are happy with is that he suspended the negotiations," says Jihad Abu Znaid, a Fatah member of the Palestinian Legislative Council from East Jerusalem. …

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