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Israeli, Palestinian Leaders Commit to Biweekly Meetings

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By Stephen Kaufman 

Following discussions with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have agreed to meet on a regular biweekly basis to discuss immediate concerns and a long-term political horizon that would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Speaking in Jerusalem March 27, Rice said that although the parties are not at the stage to hold negotiations on final status, the biweekly meetings will serve as initial discussions to help build confidence between the two sides for the future. 

“Palestinians must know that their state will be viable. Israelis must know that a future state of Palestine will be a source of security, not a threat to it. Both sides must have confidence that economic and trade relations between them will promote the welfare of their populations,” Rice said.

The secretary said she would meet with Abbas and Olmert periodically to support their dialogue and help accelerate progress.

“The Israelis and Palestinians are taking the initial step on the path to peace, and the American role will include helping them to overcome obstacles, develop new ideas, and rally international support for their efforts,” she said.

To help address immediate concerns on the ground, U.S. General Keith Dayton will work with both parties to establish benchmarks to help measure progress on issues such as ending Qassam missile attacks against Israel and maintaining a cease-fire, as well as allowing movement and access for Palestinians. 

Rice expressed concern that the November 2005 agreement on movement and access “is not having the overall effect on the lives of the Palestinian people that it might,” and the cease-fire between the two sides “is not having the effect on the security of the Israelis that it ought to.” (See related article.)

“I think benchmarks that General Dayton can develop with them and that we can all observe and monitor will help both parties to achieve what they need to on the ground,” she said.

Secretary Rice said the nature of the newly formed Palestinian national unity government makes peace efforts “more complex” because Hamas remains unwilling to renounce violence, to recognize Israel’s right to exist or to adhere to previous Palestinian agreements and obligations.

“A Palestinian Authority that accepts those principles could contribute significantly to the fulfillment of their people’s longing for a better life and a state of their own,” Rice said.

She also called on Hamas to abandon the use of terrorism and to secure the release of captured Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit, who has been held by militants in Gaza since June 2006.

The international community and neighboring states in the region should be active participants in the diplomatic efforts to achieve peace, and can help with current efforts to build the Palestinian economy through “generous assistance delivered in a manner to assure its proper application,” Rice said.

She added that Israel’s Arab neighbors can hasten peace efforts and the establishment of a Palestinian state by reaching out to and clarifying their own political horizon for Israel. 

The Arab states can “reassure Israel that its place in the region will be more, not less secure, by an end to the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state; to show Israel that they accept its place in the Middle East; and to demonstrate that the peace they seek is greater than just the absence of war,” she said.

She praised Saudi King Abdullah’s 2002 peace initiative, which was endorsed by the Arab League, and said, “Now, at this critical moment, we look for our friends and partners of long-standing to build on this important initiative.”

In a March 26 interview with Fox News, Rice urged Arab states to use their initiative as a “more active vehicle for diplomacy.”

“It's an important initiative in that it imagines the consolidation of gains in the Palestinian-Israeli track, but using also the Arab initiative and the Arab diplomacy to push that forward and to get reconciliation between Israelis and Arabs,” she said.

Source : USINFO

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