Rice meets harder lines in push for Israeli-Palestinian peace
In the West Bank Tuesday, Secretary Rice urged Israelis and Palestinians to return to the negotiating table.
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"But we made an international commitment to the peace process, and to dismantle this now means the dismantlement of the Palestinian Authority, which Abbas cannot afford at this point," says Ms. Abu Znaid.Skip to next paragraph
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"Unfortunately, Rice's comments in Egypt are very discouraging to us," she adds. "They only indicate that we are heading into a vicious cycle of violence, demands and more negotiations, all of which are unfruitful and unpromising. What we heard from Rice only expresses American demands on the Palestinian Authority to reengage in negotiations in the context of aggressive Israeli measures in the West Bank and Gaza."
Abu Znaid is one of many members of the PLC, the Palestinian parliament, who are upset over the lack of any role in peace talks.
The legislators, who are infrequently able to pull together an official council meeting – many of the elected members from Hamas are in Israeli jails, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip are increasingly cut off from each other – are trying to set up an oversight committee that would allow them to review and reject decisions made by Abbas in negotiations with Israel. Although it isn't clear that they will be able to pull this off, the move itself represents another challenge.
If Abbas appears keen to meet the US and Israeli proposal for resuming talks, which the Palestinians announced they were breaking off over the weekend following a series of deadly Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza, his credibility will suffer further, Abu Znaid adds.
Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator, was more optimistic, raising the possibility of reaching what he called a "mutual tahdiya," using an Arabic word that suggests a calming or quieting of the conflict without an actual cease-fire.
"We need to begin a process of de-escalation," Dr. Erekat says. "We need to revive the negotiations and this goes parallel with Israel stopping attacks on Gaza and Hamas stopping the Qassam attacks on Israel."
After Rice's arrival from Egypt, she went straight to Ramallah, in the West Bank, to meet with Abbas and with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. She was due to have dinner with Mr. Olmert in Jerusalem and to have more meetings on Wednesday morning with Israeli officials before continuing on to Europe.
Olmert has made it clear that Israel plans to continue operations in Gaza, although an Israeli ground invasion over the weekend came to end late Sunday night. A key weekly government meeting on security issues was postponed until Wednesday, confirming assumptions here that Israel lowered the intensity of its military campaign in order to give Rice a chance to revamp the diplomat track.
Olmert's spokesman told reporters on the eve of Rice's visit that the only way Israel see to deal with Hamas to try to stop it militarily.
"We believe pressure applied to the Hamas military machine could ultimately bring results. A Hamas that is weakened will mean a better chance for the peace process to succeed," said Mark Regev, Olmert's spokesman.
"We think it's a mistake to break off talks," Mr. Regev said of the PA's decision to halt negotiations with Israel. "We are not going to solve problems by not talking."
Among the demands of mid-level Palestinian politicians mounting the challenge to Abbas is that negotiations not be open-ended. "These negotiations need to be done within a time frame, since Israel otherwise will show the world forever that there are ongoing negotiations, as if they are being conducted between two countries and not between Israel and a weak [Palestinian] Authority," says Ayman Daraghmeh, a Ramallah-area PLC member aligned with Hamas. "Abbas should concentrate on the internal situation, by trying to initiate dialogue between Hamas and Fatah. This in my view is our priority and not fruitless negotiations with Israel."
[Editor's note: The original version misstated the number of times Condoleezza Rice has visited Jerusalem]
• Nuha Musleh in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.