Rice to Launch Talks on Palestinian State

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The United States is planning to hold separate talks with Israel and the Palestinian Authority aimed at achieving an accord that will lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is on a visit to Israel, said last night that the U.S. will hold separate negotiations with the two sides, present questions and request clarifications regarding their positions, in an effort to reach an agreed-upon agenda for the renewal of pace talks.

Rice is planning to present the two sides with questions on two main issues: territory and security.

According to Rice, it is possible to learn from the experience that has accumulated since the end of negotiations in 2000, particularly with regard to security arrangements. She pointed to the management of the border crossings at Karni and Rafah in the Gaza Strip as examples that should be studied closely.

The secretary of state also said that she intends to request clarifications from Israel as to how it intends to implement the vision of a territorially contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank.

Rice arrived in Israel yesterday and dined with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at his home in Jerusalem. Earlier she visited Ramallah and met with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, whom she will meet again this morning in Jordan.

Rice is scheduled to meet today with Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

This evening she intends to hold a press conference in Jerusalem, which will open with a short statement summarizing her visit. Among the aides accompanying Rice on this visit is one of her senior speech writers, Christian Brose, who will assist her in formulating her statement.

The Israeli political team held talks with Rice's aides yesterday in an effort to soften the statement.

Israel would like to avoid formulations that will be binding in a final agreement or which deal with issues of serious dispute (most likely, Jerusalem and the refugees).

Rice told reporters yesterday that her earlier visit to the region, five weeks ago, and her tripartite meeting with Abbas and Olmert in Jerusalem took place with the Mecca agreement for the establishment of a Palestinian national unity government as the background.

Unlike that meeting, which Rice hinted had taken place because it had already been scheduled, this visit aims to jump-start a separate negotiation process.

Rice said that she sat for many hours with U.S. President George W. Bush in order to formulate a diplomatic strategy, and that she does not exclude the possibility that a special envoy will be appointed for talks with the two sides.

This evening's statement by the secretary of state is expected to relate to the upcoming Arab League summit in Riyadh, scheduled for Thursday, which will likely reaffirm the Arab Peace Initiative - the Saudi proposal of 2002.

The Americans are hoping that the Saudis will provide a regional aegis for the renewal of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

For his part, Olmert strongly attacked Abbas yesterday for agreeing to participate in the unity government.

"He violated, in a blatant fashion, a series of commitments that were made to Israel, and especially his commitment not to set up a Palestinian unity government prior to the release of [kidnapped IDF soldier] Gilad Shalit. This commitment was made to me repeatedly, including at the tripartite meeting. It was also made to the leaders of other countries - and these leaders, who heard this clear commitment of the chairman, wondered how it could be violated so blatantly."

Olmert says: "The political platform of the Palestinian unity government grants legitimacy to violent resistance, violating the promise of the President [Abbas]. All this will not make contacts between us and the PA easier in the near future. There is no doubt that what is needed is an entirely new behavior on the part of the PA in order to create the correct formula that can encourage a fruitful process of negotiations."

Hamas political bureau chief, Khaled Meshal, told Saudi officials yesterday that his party will not oppose the Arab Peace Initiative, which is expected to be reaffirmed during the Arab League summit in Riyadh this weekend.

However, the Palestinian unity government does not intend to announce its official support for the initiative and will make due with the kind of statements made during the Mecca agreement, in the form of "commitment to the Arab decisions."

PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who will accompany Abbas to the summit in Riyadh, is not expected to express his support for the initiative.



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