FM: Setting final borders must precede settler compensation plan
By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent, Haaretz Service and News Agencies
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Sunday that while Israel should begin work on plans on compensating settlers who may be evacuated from the West Bank in the future, it should not be enacted until a final peace deal has been reached with the Palestinians.
"I think that someone who has settled in a certain place should be helped by the government to leave it in accordance with its priorities," she told reporters after talks in Jerusalem with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "In principle, as one who went through the [2005 Gaza Strip] disengagement, I think that it is proper to work on this as early as possible."
But she added that, "It appears to me that it is still too early, since no final borders have been defined in the negotiations, and it is therefore difficult to formulate this on the level of legislation," she stated.
Rice, who is in the Middle East for a three-day visit, said she expected Israel to take meaningful steps to improve the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank.
"There is a shared responsibility here for an atmosphere and a reality that can lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state based on security for Israel and Palestinians alike and economic viability for Palestinians," Rice said at the press conference.
"I understand the security considerations and I would hope and I expect that we're going to be able to some things, or that Israel and the Palestinians together will be able to do some things, that are meaningful both for security and for economic viability," Rice said.
Livni said Israel aimed to improve the Palestinians' living conditions, but would not do so if this entailed compromising its own security.
"The idea is to ease the life of the Palestinians... Like always, the formula is to do whatever we can as long as it doesn't affect our own security. Because the other responsibility is to find the way to give security to the Israeli citizens," Livni said.
Upon her arrival in Israel on Saturday, Rice said she would focus on ways to improve Palestinians' quality of life in the West Bank during her three-day visit to the Middle East.
"The improvement of life on the ground is the piece that I think really has to be pushed forward pretty hard," Rice told reporters en route to Israel. Her first meeting was with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem.
Rice said she would look at the issue of removing West Bank checkpoints - something Israel has been reluctant to do, citing security concerns.
"Obviously there are security issues but we do have to find ways to improve movement," she said.
The secretary of state said her visit is not intended to introduce any new American proposals for the peace talks, saying the negotiations have been "pretty fruitful" thus far and that introducing new ideas would not be "useful."
"I am not coming to insert American ideas into this process," Rice said.
Addressing the ongoing violence in the Gaza Strip, Rice said the continued Palestinian rocket fire at Israeli communities and the humanitarian situation in the Strip must be resolved.
"Obviously we are continuing to try to find an answer for Gaza, where there needs to be an end to the rocket attacks on Israel and where we need to find solutions - sustainable solutions - for the humanitarian situation," Rice said.
But when asked if she was more amenable to a formal Gaza cease-fire agreement, Rice said: "No."
Rice plans to hold two trilateral meetings during her visit. One American-Israeli-Palestinian conclave will deal with the final status negotiations, while the other will address the situation on the ground in the West Bank and what both sides are doing, or not doing, to fulfill their obligations under the road map peace plan.
She will hold meetings in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Amman - the latter with King Abdullah of Jordan. The visit is intended to signal growing American involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and to prod both sides to make significant progress before U.S. President George Bush visits the region in May.
Rice is interested in raising the profile of the final-status talks and demonstrating real progress on the core issues. To this end, she plans one three-way meeting with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qureia, who head the respective negotiating teams. A joint declaration about progress in the negotiations might be issued at the end of it.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at http://zionism-israel.com/israel_news/2008/03/livni-settler-compnsation-plan-must.html. Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.