New York Times
January 14, 2007
RAMALLAH, Jan. 14 -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, pledging deeper engagement in the Middle East peace process, met today with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, who rejected suggestions for establishing a temporary state within provisional borders and pledged that any American funds to bolster his security forces would not be abused.
"I have heard loud and clear the call for deeper American engagement in these processes," Ms. Rice said after 2-1/2 hours of talks with Mr. Abbas.
"The United States is absolutely committed to helping to find a solution where Israelis and Palestinians can live in security, in which they can live in peace and in which they can live in democracy," she said, adding, "You will have my commitment to do precisely that."
Ms. Riceís visit to the Palestinian government headquarters was clearly an effort to bolster Mr. Abbas in his struggle to regain the political advantage over Hamas, which took control of the parliament in recent elections.
But, likewise, the Israeli officials she is meeting during two days of shuttling between Israeli and Palestinian officials also are showing weakness in the polls. And Ms. Riceís job of trying to accelerate progress on the "road map" -- a step-by-step process for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute -- is overshadowed in the minds of many here by new Bush administration initiatives toward Iraq and Iran.
Thus, none of the parties to the talks here predicted any speedy breakthrough.
Although no formal proposal has been presented, some Israeli officials have floated the idea that the peace process could be accelerated by establishing a provisional Palestinian state within temporary borders to be subsequently finalized.
But Mr. Abbas said the idea would never work, fearing that the Palestinians might be locked into an inferior map.
"We have also noted to Minister Rice our decision to end any temporary or transitional solutions including a state with temporary borders because we do not believe it to be a realistic choice that can be built upon," Mr. Abbas said during a joint news conference with the secretary of state.
Mr. Abbas also issued assurances that there would be careful spending and accounting of American funds should Congress approve a State Department proposal for $86 million in "non-lethal assistance" to enhance those branches of the Palestinian security forces directly under his political wing -- as opposed to those loyal to Hamas.
"Be confident that we will not misuse any aid that we receive from any party," he said, noting that vehicles and communications equipment, as well as weapons, had been destroyed in clashes with the Israelis.
The Rice-Abbas meeting was held in the Palestinian government compound in Ramallah, just across a cement lot where construction is underway on a mausoleum for Yasir Arafat, the deceased Palestinian leader. An artistís rendering of the tomb and adjacent mosque captured an elegant, almost Frank Lloyd Wright combination of natural construction materials, simple angles and ornamental pools.
Last month, Israelís prime minister, Ehud Olmert, met Mr. Abbas and offered a number of concessions aimed at strengthening Mr. Abbas.
While Mr. Abbas said the session with the Israeli leader was "a good meeting," he also said, delicately, that "we are waiting for the application of our agreements." For her part, Ms. Rice had described the Israeli-Palestinian session as a reason for optimism.
But a spokesman for Mr. Abbas, Mohamed Edwan, gave a far more pessimistic review of talks between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
Mr. Edwan said that several agreements emerging from the Abbas-Olmert session, including a review of checkpoints and establishing a process for releasing prisoners, had languished, and he complained that a meeting that produced promises with no subsequent progress could only serve to weaken Mr. Abbas. It "hurts him rather than benefits him," Mr. Edwan said.
Officials close to Mr. Abbas offered even more negative assessments overall of the Rice visit and recent Israeli actions.
Mr. Abbasís rivals in Hamas offered even more negative assessments overall of the Rice visit and recent Israeli actions.
Ahmed Yousef, an adviser to Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya of Hamas, said of Ms. Rice: "She said that she is here to listen, but the situation needs movement, not listening."
Referring to previous pledges by Israel, he said, "What about Israelís release of the money, the easing of movement, the removal of checkpoints?"
"Even on these issues, she hasnít come with anything new," Mr. Yousef said.
They included lifting restrictions on Palestinian movements and releasing $100 million in tax revenue that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians, but has been withholding since Hamas came to power.
In Jerusalem, where Israeli ministers gathered for the weekly Cabinet session, several expressed growing frustration at the continued Palestinian rocket fire coming out of the Gaza Strip.
"It is clear that sooner or later we will have to respond," said Avigdor Lieberman, the minister of strategic affairs and an advocate of tough measures against the Palestinians.
While other ministers made similar statements, Meir Sheetrit, the housing and construction minister, said, "I donít think it is possible that we should today have a massive action in Gaza."
Despite a cease-fire in Gaza that came into effect on Nov. 26, Palestinian militants have continued to fire rockets into southern Israel on an almost daily basis. The rockets are inaccurate and rarely cause serious damage or casualties, but the Israeli government says it will not tolerate the attacks indefinitely.