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Time in Palestine 12:10:01 Õ, 02/04/2003



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US Says Roadmap ‘Not Open for Negotiation’ But Palestinians Still Skeptical


Palestine Media Center- (PMC)

Washington said the stalled Middle East peace process has “reached a hopeful moment,” and that the so-called “roadmap” to peace “is not open to negotiation,” but again without committing itself to timetables or implementation mechanisms, which kept Palestinians skeptical that such statements are merely “pain-relieving” political tactics.

President George W. Bush’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, said Monday its “roadmap” for setting up a Palestinian state by the end of 2005 “is not open to negotiation” and that Israel must “play its part” to pave the way.

In a speech to the strongest pro-Israel lobby group in the USA, AIPAC, Rice also called on all Arab governments to recognize Israel’s right to exist and said democratic reforms within the Palestine National Authority (PNA) were “extremely important.”

The blueprint, prepared jointly with the European Union, the United Nations and Russia, is designed to reopen negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians once Mahmoud Abbas is confirmed as the Palestinian prime minister.

Rice’s call for a quick start, without attempts by either side to revise the terms of the “roadmap,” follows complaints by European and Arab governments that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would try to arrange more favorable terms.

They voiced their objections after Bush had said “we will expect and welcome contributions from Israel and the Palestinians to this document.”

Secretary of State Colin Powell, and now Rice, in responding to questions at the 44th annual policy meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, tried to discourage delay.

Rice, who had asked that her remarks to thousands of members of the pro-Israel lobby be off-the-record to the news media, said of Israel and the Palestinians “we expect their comments; it is not a matter of renegotiation”.

“It can be commented on by the parties,” Rice added.

Rice said the US would present formally the international “roadmap” for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement once the new Palestinian PM, Mahmoud Abbas, was confirmed in office with his cabinet.

Bush envisages two states, democratic Israel and democratic Palestine, living side by side in peace.

Rice set out what she called the “ambitious agenda” of the US to bring about change in the Middle East, including a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

She called on Palestinians to end what she termed “violence” against Israel, but she also noted that Israel “must end settlement activities” while progress was being made towards peace.

Earlier, Powell was optimistic.

“Today we have reached a hopeful moment, when progress may again be possible,” he said late Sunday in Washington.

But he warned that the administration of President Bush would be watching “very carefully” how Abbas exercises his authority, “which is so important for Palestinian hopes for better future.”

Powell reiterated the promise by Washington and London to unveil the “roadmap” for peace as soon as Abbas and his cabinet are confirmed.

Moreover, Powell renewed his call for an end to expansion by Israeli settlers in the occupied Palestinian territory.

“Settlement activity by Israel is inconsistent with President Bush's two-state vision,” he said.

Sharon’s right-wing coalition includes two staunch pro-settlement parties, while many in his own Likud party also back them.

However, America’s non-commitment to a date for the publication of the “roadmap” and to timetables for its implementation led Palestinian chief negotiator and cabinet minister Sa’eb Erekat to slam the repeated delay.

“It seems the delay in the peace process is in marked contrast to the immediate and final decision for a war on Iraq. The decision for war was not delayed, but the decision for peace has been delayed six times in four months,” he said.

Erekat said on Saturday that President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s statements concerning the presentation of the US “roadmap” peace plan are just “pain relieving.”

Meanwhile, former US Secretary of State James Baker said Sunday that the “roadmap” should be implemented without conditions and urged Washington to call a meeting for the parties to discuss it.

He also said the US-led war on Iraq would give President Bush “a wonderful opportunity to build a legacy for himself...that is to create a stable situation in the Middle East and resolve the ongoing dispute between Arabs and Israelis.”

“We need to say, 'This is the way to peace, here it is, ‘put it on the table, and then call a meeting of the parties,” he told ABC television.

However, Powell sounded as if he was adopting an Israeli position.

Israel, which has suggested more than 100 changes to the “roadmap”, refused to pass judgment on Abbas until he had proven his mettle by ending bloody attacks in Israel.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom saw the move as a “positive step but on the other hand we have top see actions on the ground,” said ministry spokesman David Saranga.

Shalom said Monday that the new Palestinian prime minister must take drastic measures against so-called radical groups in his first two months in office.

If Abbas does not take “the right measures against terror when he comes to office in his first or second months, he won't be able to do it after it,” Shalom said after a meeting with US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

“I think it will be very important for him and for the future of the region that he will take those measures against the Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and other terrorist organizations while he come to office,” he added.

Shalom said that Israel has nonetheless agreed it would be “a positive step in the right direction” if Abbas takes the job.

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