Rice, Abbas differ on two-state plan

Palestinian president objects to phase-in schedule

January 15, 2007|By Bay Fang.. | Bay Fang..,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on a diplomatic push in the Middle East, met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday, but the idea of a two-state solution brought up differences between the officials.

At a news conference at the Fatah Party headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Rice and Abbas smiled, shook hands and emphasized their mutual determination to move forward in establishing a Palestinian state. But while Abbas mentioned the importance of moving toward a two-state solution, as laid out in the U.S.-backed "road map," he rejected the plan's phased approach of first establishing a provisional Palestinian state.

"We have assured Rice of our refusal of any temporary or transitional solutions, including a state with temporary borders," he said, "because we do not believe it to be a realistic choice that can be built upon." Instead, he called for moving immediately to talks on a "permanent settlement" of a viable, territorially contiguous Palestinian state.

Rice emphasized the administration's commitment to the road map.

"The road map, after all, is the internationally recognized guide to the establishment of a two-state solution, and we should fulfill all of its terms," she said.

The road map, supported by the U.S., United Nations, European Union and Russia, calls for a phased approach to establishing a Palestinian state, first dismantling terrorism groups, freezing Israeli settlement activity and creating a provisional Palestinian state with temporary borders before moving to a final accord.

Although Rice spoke positively about the summit held by Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in December, a spokesman for Abbas, Mohamed Edwan, complained there had been no progress on the confidence-building measures that were promised during that summit, such as removing checkpoints and discussing the release of prisoners.

He said Abbas' standing with the Palestinian public was worse now than before the summit, because he has been unable to deliver on the promise of the meeting. "It hurts him rather than helps," said Edwan.

Washington is seeking to strengthen Abbas militarily by pouring $86 million into helping train and equip his presidential guard. Rice emphasized that the money is part of an international effort to aid the Palestinian forces and that the Palestinians would be held accountable for using the money in a responsible way.

"It's not as if tomorrow there will be a U.S. contribution, should the Congress approve it, of X million dollars; rather, this is a train-and-equip program that will unfold over a period of time," Rice said. "I am sure that President Abbas and his people will want to be attentive to the requirements of the plan, including attentive to concerns about human rights which are there in all of our train-and-equip programs around the world."

Still, the militant Hamas group, which gained control of the Palestinian Parliament after elections in March and whose charter calls for Israel's destruction, said that the aid deepens the rift between the two Palestinian parties. The U.S. policy "is doomed to fail because the Palestinian people are not bought with money, and no one believes that trying to lure some [Palestinians] will lead to results," said Ghazi Hamad, a Hamas government spokesman.

One Palestinian journalist asked why Rice had come to Ramallah and whether she was just there to listen, as she had done in her last trip.

Rice responded, "Well, first of all, it's not a bad thing to listen because sometimes you hear what parties need. ... There have been many failed attempts to resolve the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis and to make progress, and we need to learn that it is important to listen and to talk and to understand where we're going."

In the end, however, she acknowledged that there had been disappointment with the lack of U.S. engagement on the languishing peace process. "I have heard loud and clear the call for deeper American engagement," she said. "You will have my commitment to do precisely that."

Bay Fang writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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