Rice ends Middle East tour

Secretary reassures Israelis

Palestinian hopes go unfulfilled

October 19, 2007|By Los Angeles Times

JERUSALEM -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrapped up her Middle East shuttle diplomacy tour yesterday, leaving Israeli officials seemingly reassured and Palestinians searching for a silver lining.

Rice, who flew to London to meet with Jordan's King Abdullah II, essentially shot down the primary Palestinian demands after days of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in advance of a proposed Annapolis peace conference this fall.

"Condoleezza Rice made it clear that she in fact agrees with most of Jerusalem's demands," said an editorial yesterday in the Hebrew daily Maariv.

Rice's visit was so uncontroversial from the Israeli perspective that much of the Israeli news media devoted only token coverage. They focused instead on the perceived Iranian nuclear threat and the implications of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's trip to Russia to visit with President Vladimir V. Putin.

Negotiating teams are working to draft a pre-conference statement of mutual goals. But Rice made it clear during her visit that the Palestinian wish for a document that calls for addressing issues on a set timeline would likely go unfulfilled.

"We're at the beginning of a process," Rice told reporters in Jerusalem. "Everyone knows that we're not going to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in November or December."

In direct contrast to stated Palestinian desires, Rice said it was not necessary to set a timeline for resolution of issues such as the future of Jerusalem and a right of return for Palestinian refugees. There would be time to delve into details once the negotiation process began in earnest, she indicated.

"The Israelis are untouched. The Palestinians may have been compromised" by Rice's statements, said Gidi Grinstein, who was part of the Israeli negotiating team during the 2000 Camp David summit. "The Palestinian leadership conveyed to its public that the pre-conference agreement would be specific, detailed and comprehensive."

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Israeli obstructionism is stalling the negotiating process.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Israelis were "not going to participate in this blame game" with Palestinians.

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