Rice Prods Israelis, Palestinians on Road Map

Julie Stahl | Jerusalem Bureau Chief | Monday, January 15, 2007

Rice Prods Israelis, Palestinians on Road Map

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - A planned three-way summit between Israeli, Palestinian and U.S. senior officials is intended to "energize" the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, an Israeli official said on Monday, but no specific date or time was set, and the announcement failed to generate much "energy" or enthusiasm from Israelis or Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Jerusalem on Monday, and they agreed "in principle" to hold a three-way meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

Olmert said the aim of the summit would be to "consider relations" between Israel and the Palestinians.

The U.S. and Israel have been trying to bolster Abbas as a so-called "moderate" in his struggle against the P.A. government led by Hamas, which openly calls for the destruction of the State of Israel.

Olmert said that in order for Israel to negotiate with a Palestinian government, that government would have to recognize Israel's right to exist, halt terrorism and abide by previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.

"If there will be a Palestinian government that accepts these principles, we will accept it," Olmert said. If not, neither Israel nor the international community will accept it, he said.

The idea is to see if we can energize the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue and try to make it go forward, said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev.

Israel wants to send the Palestinians the message that if they choose the path of Hamas, they are choosing political stagnation, deadlock, and international isolation, said Regev.

But if they choose the path of the moderates there is a "clear political horizon," international support and very tangible results, Regev added.

The moderates have promised to end the violence directed at Israel, which would allow the parties to proceed to the second phase of the road map peace plan, he said. The second phase is the establishment of a Palestinian state within provisional borders.

Abbas (as well as Jordan and Egypt) have rejected the idea of establishing a Palestinian state with temporary borders. They want to see Israel and the Palestinians leap forward to the third phase of the road map -- the establishment of a Palestinian state with permanent borders.

'Moderate?'

At a rally of Abbas' Fatah faction in Ramallah on the eve of Rice's arrival last week, the Palestinian president called on his supporters to turn their guns on Israel instead of each other. (See earlier story)

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said that Jerusalem had "noticed" Abbas' remarks but would not comment further on them.

Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh told Cybercast News Service that he didn't believe it.

"I know him too well. I don't think that he is preaching fighting Israel. He's risking his life because he believes in peace, not the other way around," Sneh said.

But Arabic expert Michael Widlanski said earlier that Abbas' speech proved he was not a moderate that that neither the U.S. nor Israel should have anything to do with him.

Regev said what makes Abbas a "moderate" is that he calls for a two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and accepts the road map peace plan.

Another analyst, Michael Oren from the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, earlier asked why Abbas would disarm militant Palestinian factions now when he is weak, when he didn't do it earlier when he had more strength and support among Palestinians.

The road map -- a combined effort of the Quartet (U.S., European Union, Russia and the United Nations) - aimed to create a Palestinian state and resolve the decades old Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the end of 2005.

But the 2003 document, accepted by both the Israelis and Palestinians, never got off the ground.

Rice insists that the only way forward is to return to the road map, although some Israeli experts have said that the road map is dead.

The road map was considered to be a "performance-based" plan - in other words, one phase had to be completed before moving on to the next phase.

The first phase required the Palestinians were to declare "an unequivocal end to violence and terrorism" and make "visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere."

Israel was required to dismantle outposts it had erected since March 2001. Instead, Israel dismantled 21 established communities in the Gaza Strip and four in the West Bank in the summer of 2005 - a move never mentioned in the road map. Israel did it nevertheless, hoping to get the peace process back on track. By most accounts, the move has backfired.

It certainly hasn't stopped the violence. In fact, there was more on Monday.

Palestinians launched a Kassam rocket at Israel, causing no injuries or damage, the army said. Overnight, Israeli troops shot and killed two armed Palestinians as they approached the fence that separates the Gaza Strip from Israel. They were carrying a bomb, the army said.

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