Rice meets PM, praises Olmert's diplomatic plan
By Yoav Stern and Akiva Eldar, Haaretz Correspondent, Haaretz Service and
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
in Jerusalem on Thursday and praised the prime minister for his diplomatic
initiative presented earlier this week.
"Rice expressed her appreciation for Prime Minister Olmert's speech earlier
this week and said that it was an important step that was likely to both
contribute towards calm and advance the peace processes in the region," said
the Prime Minister's Office in a statement. "The secretary of state updated
the prime minister on her meeting earlier today with Palestinian Authority
Chairman Mahmoud Abbas."
Olmert said Monday during a speech in Sde Boker that Israel would accept a
territorially contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank in exchange for
Palestinians relinquishing their demand for a return of Palestinian refugees
The two also discussed the fresh cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.
"Prime Minister Olmert informed Secretary of State Rice on his meeting with
Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman regarding the cease-fire, [arms]
smuggling and the ongoing efforts to release [captured Israel Defense Forces
soldier Gilad Shalit," said the statement. "The two also discussed the Iranian
According to Army Radio, Rice urged the prime minister to strengthen the Gaza
cease-fire, and expressed her appreciation for the Israeli restraint in the
wake of violations of the truce on the part of Palestinian militants.
Olmert's chief of staff Yoram Turbowitz, his military adviser, Major General
Gadi Shamni, the prime minister's diplomatic adviser, Shalom Turgeman, and his
media adviser, Asaf Shariv, also attended the meeting.
The American delegation included U.S. Ambassador to Israel Richard Jones,
Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs C. David Welch and
National Security Council Director for Near East and North African Affairs
Rice is currently meeting with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
Rice meets Abbas, says Washington to intensify peace efforts
Speaking a press conference with Abbas in Jericho hours earlier, Rice said
that Washington wanted to "intensify our efforts" to renew the peace process.
She said that the U.S. has made clear it expects a viable, contiguous
Palestinian state when it is created, and that no actions should be taken now
to prejudge the outcome of a final peace agreement.
She added that the U.S. is interested in seeing Palestinian Authority reforms
of its security services and political institutions.
Meanwhile, Abbas told reporters that talks on a unity government with the
ruling Hamas organization had reached a "dead end."
Ahead of the Jericho meeting, an Abbas confidant said he believed the
cease-fire and a conciliatory speech by Olmert earlier this week have created
"I think it's up to us and the Israelis to make it work," said the chief
Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat. "It can work. The opportunity is there."
In Amman on Thursday, Bush appealed for support for Abbas, referring to him by
his commonly used nomme de guerre, Abu Mazen.
"Abu Mazen, who I believe wants there to be a Palestinian state living side by
side in peace with Israel, deserves the support of the world. And he deserves
support in peeling his government away from those who do not recognize
Israel's right to exist," Bush said at a news conference with the Iraqi Prime
Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
Israeli officials said Olmert would emphasize to Rice that pressure must be
maintained on the Palestinian leadership to continue isolating Hamas and press
for the formation of a Palestinian government that recognizes Israel,
renounces violence and accepts previous peace accords, as the international
community has demanded.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar of Hamas said he didn't think the
meeting would help the Palestinian cause.
"Our experience with these meetings and these visits are that they justify
more Israeli aggression against our people," Zahar said at a news conference
before the Rice-Abbas talks began.
Sources say that Rice's visit to Jerusalem is designed to show American
support for the fledgling negotiating process. The process began with the
cease-fire that began Sunday, and should presumably lead to setting up a
Palestinian national unity government.
In the next stage, the U.S. is expected to help jump-start the political
negotiations between Israel and the PA.
Palestinian sources said Rice is expected to ask Abbas and Israel to expand
the cease-fire to the West Bank. They will also discuss implementing the
border passes agreement that was signed by the U.S., Israel and the PA after
Israel's pullout from Gaza.
UN report: Israel violating Gaza border crossing agreement
The visit by Rice is expected to be preceded by the release of an extremely
critical report written by the United Nations Coordinator for Humanitarian
Affairs in the Territories. The report, a copy of which has reached Haaretz,
accuses Israel of violating the border crossings agreement's every single
The report says that closing the passes for most of the year catapulted the
unemployment rate in the Gaza Strip from 33 percent in 2005 to 42 percent this
year. Since Shalit's abduction on June 25, the passes have been closed 86
percent of the time, the report says. Since mid-January, the average number of
trucks passing through Karni has been 12 a day, while in the agreement Israel
had undertaken to raise the number to 400 trucks a day by the end of the year.
Israel also violated its commitment to alleviate the passage of people and
merchandise in the West Bank, and to enable the passage between the Gaza Strip
and the West Bank. In fact, all contact between the two regions has been cut
off. The number of roadblocks in the West Bank rose during the past year by 44
percent and Israel divided the West Bank into ten enclaves.
Israel broke its commitment to allow convoys to pass from the Gaza Strip to
the West Bank and to advance the operation of air and sea ports in the Gaza
The UN report emphasizes that since the beginning of April, Israel had cited
security reasons for most of the closures of the Karni terminal, but that no
security breaches had occurred there since April 26.
The cumbersome security arrangements enable only 40 percent of the trucks
carrying export goods from the Gaza Strip to go through the border pass. The
resulting damage to agricultural exports is estimated to be more than $30
million for this year. The losses incurred to the hothouses purchased from the
Gush Katif settlements, resulting from the need to destroy hundreds of tons of
strawberries and flowers, reached $6 million.
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