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Rice Says Weeks of Intensive Diplomacy Ahead for the Middle East

18 January 2007

Cites greater consensus for two-state solution to Palestinian-Israeli conflict

Washington -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she expects her trilateral meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will take place during the first half of February, and that some of the discussions will focus on building Palestinian political and economic institutions.

“The next couple of weeks will be pretty intensive on the diplomatic front,” Rice said January 18 in remarks to the press in Berlin.  The Quartet for Middle East peace -- the United Nations, the European Union (EU), Russia and the United States -- will meet in Washington February 2, and the secretary said that meeting will be followed by a visit from Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit.  (See related article.)

In these meetings, as well as in consultations with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, “We will spend, I think, a good deal of time really trying to think about the agenda for this, [and] to see what the parties want to put on the agenda.”  While the road map for Middle East peace is supposed to result in the establishment of a Palestinian state, Rice said there are “many different facets” to its creation beyond border and security issues.

Not much attention has been given to the future state’s “internal composition, democratic processes, [and] institutions,” Rice said, adding that Abbas is interested in those facets and can be assisted in that effort by others in the international community.

“You can imagine, for instance, on the economic side, on the institution-building side, that there are other countries, perhaps the EU and others, that might be interested in playing a role there,” she said.

New circumstances among Israelis and Palestinians, as well as some U.S. policy decisions over the past several years, have helped to lay the groundwork for the latest round of talks, she said.

“I just hope that when people look at where we are now, they'll think about that entire evolution, because you don't build the possibility for breakthroughs on something as intractable as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by five months of shuttle diplomacy.  You just don't.  There has to be a process of laying groundwork and I think we've been laying groundwork,” she said.

Rice cited President Bush's 2002 declaration of a two-state solution, his decision not to try to deal with former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, his call for Palestinian democratization, support for the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, and the U.S.-led removal of Saddam Hussein’s government from Iraq as ways the United States has helped to prepare the current circumstances.

Bush’s declaration that the outcome of negotiations would be a two-state solution helped to “condition the environment” in the region, she said, influencing former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to shift his right-wing political positions and “begin to talk about dividing the land.”

“[N]ow the breadth of the Israeli political system that is actually united behind a two-state solution is very different than in 2000,” she said. 

On the other side, Rice said, “the Arabs [are] saying essentially Israel is going to be here, [and] we might as well learn to live with each other, even those who have not recognized Israel,” she said. 

In terms of Palestinian politics, the Palestinian Authority under Arafat was “overrun by corruption, overrun by its ties with terrorism,” Rice said.  And while the inclusion of the terrorist group Hamas in Palestinian politics “has made things in some sense more complicated,” she said, it has “also made Hamas contest in the political system, and their inability to govern has led [them] … to a very difficult situation in which they're trying to find their ways out.”

Rice said very difficult issues remain between the two sides, “But you sense that the tectonic plates underneath this conflict have shifted.”

The new conditions, in which there is greater consensus for a two-state solution “have now led to the place where these people want to get on about doing it,” she said.

A transcript of Rice’s remarks is available on the State Department Web site.

For more information on U.S. policy, see The Middle East:  A Vision for the Future.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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