NASHVILLE, Tennessee - U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday she believes that the majority of Israelis are prepared to give up the West Bank in exchange for peace.
Rice made the comments at the final panel of the yearly General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities (GA), in Nashville Tennessee, which ended Tuesday.
Rice added that Israelis must be prepared for difficult and painful sacrifices to some of their longest-held aspirations during upcoming talks with Palestinian leaders.
Rice did not specify what sacrifices might be needed but added that the Palestinians must also be prepared for sacrifices. "The threat from violent extremists means that failure of the talks is not an option," she said.
"What is at stake is nothing less than the future of the Middle East," she added.
Rice expressed optimism ahead of the upcoming U.S.-hosted Annapolis summit planned for the end of November, and said that the situation in the past years had improved greatly. She maintained that Israelis believe today that the establishment of a Palestinian state could benefit Israel, and that most Arab states are not questioning whether Israel will exist, but rather what the conditions for peace are.
"In our view, the security of the democratic Jewish state required the creation of a responsible Palestinian state," she said. She suggested that the Palestinian state also could serve as a bulwark against the threat from violent extremists.
She praised President George W. Bush for realizing a Palestinian democracy was a necessary precondition for meaningful negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis.
"Some think that this focus on democracy backfired with the election of Hamas," she said. "I disagree with that conclusion. Hamas always had power. What it never had was responsibility for power."
"Hamas has chosen violence rather than responsible government," she said, "and for that reason it is isolated by the international community."
Rice said a two-state solution for the Israelis and Palestinians was more urgent than ever because of the threat from violent extremists in the Middle East, referring specifically to Hamas, Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas and Iran.
"Iran is choosing to destabilize the Middle East, pursue nuclear capabilities and threaten our allies, especially Israel," she said.
She also warned that the mere thought of a nuclear Iran is unacceptable for the U.S., and should be unacceptable for the international community as well. She praised the Iranian people, maintaining that their leadership does not properly represent them - investing million in financing terror and developing nuclear weapons while the citizens of Iran are struggling to find jobs.