Rice is in Jerusalem to check on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice arrived in Jerusalem Sunday after being profoundly shocked in Moscow by Russian President Putin’s anger. Will she be profoundly shocked here?

En route to Moscow three days ago, Rice was asked by journalists about her reaction to the revelation that the Israeli military had confiscated land from four Palestinian villages in order to construct a Palestinian bypass road around the enormous Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, located in the West Bank, west of Jerusalem:

“QUESTION: Israel announced this week the confiscation of Palestinian land between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim in West Bank, which appears to be a fait accompli before your arrival. What are you going to do about that?

“SECRETARY RICE: Well, I called the Ambassador to — their Ambassador to the United States yesterday and asked for a clarification. I’m awaiting one …”

UPDATE: Rice told journalists en route to Tel Aviv this morning that she did get some official Israeli clarification. Here is her exchange with journalists on the topic, according to a transcript later released by the U.S. State Department:

“QUESTION: Madame Secretary, did you get an answer from the Israelis about this confiscation of Palestinian land?

SECRETARY RICE: I did. What I’ll do is I’d prefer to have the Israelis say precisely what they — their clarification. But let me put it this way: it was a clarification concerning the timing of such a — the actual timing that anything would happen, saying that it was not imminent and also that it was to improve Palestinian mobility. We’ll continue to have discussions about this. But the point that I’ll be making is we have to be very careful as we’re trying to move toward the establishment of a Palestinian state by actions and statement that erode confidence in the parties’ commitment to a two-state solution”.

In her meeting with journalists on board her plane, Rice also said: “I think the goal now is to paint as concrete a picture as possible of the — of a Palestinian state, to demonstrate that the international community, the region and most importantly the parties themselves believe that one can indeed be established, and then to invite all who have any — who have the interests of the Palestinian people at heart to join that consensus“.

Rice added that “anyone who does not support this opening in Israeli-Palestinian discussions of issues that have been dormant for now years, I think can’t possibly have the interests of the Palestinian people at heart. This is — it is, you know, not a perfect circumstance in which to try to get Palestinians and Israelis to develop a pathway to a Palestinian state, but they’re better circumstances that we’ve had in quite a long time. And I have to say that those who remain outside the consensus for a two-state solution, for a serious peace process, are very much running against the tide of responsible Arab opinion, of responsible international opinion, and if you believe most of the polls that are taken of responsible — of Palestinian and Israeli opinion of the populations as well”.

On the Palestinian state, Rice also said that: “This President [George W. Bush] has done a lot over the last five and a half, six years to lay groundwork for a different approach and for a different starting point for the establishment of a Palestinian state, you know, with firm American commitment to the establishment of a state right up front, right up front. It’s going to be a state, it’s going to be called Palestine — leading then to, I think, a readjustment of attitudes in the international community, most especially in Israel itself, where with Ariel Sharon’s Herzliya speech saying we have to divide the land.
You got the broadest possible Israeli agreement that a Palestinian state was in Israel’s interest. I don’t think we’ve ever been there before … Would it obviously be very good to get a Palestinian state as soon as possible? Absolutely. But there’s a lot of work between now and then. And it’s also important to note that there is an issue of the agreement and then there is the issue of implementation, and there are a lot of obligations that would have to be met for a Palestinian state to really be able to stand up and to be able to govern itself. In part, that is why the Blair mission is so important because without the establishment of institutions, without the establishment of a viable prospect of an economic future, this state’s never going to work. So these all have to work together…”

The Associated Press reported today that Rice was trying to “lower expectations” about her visit to the region, which is now expected to last three days: She “said she did not believe her visit would produce the joint Israel-Palestinian statement or bring it to a point where invitations for the conference, expected to held in Annapolis, Md., in late November, could be issued. ‘I don’t expect out of these meetings that there will be any particular outcome in the sense of breakthroughs on the document’, she told reporters aboard her plane … Rice said Israeli clarifications that the project was not imminent and meant to ease Palestinian movement did little to ease concerns. ‘We have to be very careful as we are trying to move toward the establishment of a Palestinian state of actions and statements that erode confidence in the parties’ commitment to a two-state solution’, she said. ‘Even if the intentions are good and even if the actual events on the ground are intended to produce a certain kind of outcome, this is a very delicate time’, Rice said. ‘It’s just a time to be extremely careful’. Rice said she would shuttle between Israel and the West Bank over the next three days to ‘help them narrow differences that they may have about what the nature of this document has to be’…”

The AP report added that “Speaking to his Cabinet Sunday, Olmert suggested a major difference existed when he hinted Israel did not see a peace deal outline as a crucial element of the meeting. The goal, Olmert said, ‘is to arrive at a joint statement during the international conference, even though the existence of such a statement was never a condition for holding this conference’, he said. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said the Palestinians would not allow Olmert to use the conference as a public relations stunt. ‘Without a document to resolve this conflict, we can’t go to the conference next month … Olmert is looking for a public relations conference and one that will allow normalization with Arab countries [but] We will not help him in this”, Malki said.
The AP report about Rice’s mission in Jerusalem and Ramallah is here.

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