Rice Promotes Peace Process on Israel Visit

During a visit to Jerusalem Sunday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declares that a Palestinian state will enhance Israel's security. Rice arrived in Israel amid domestic political upheaval: Last week, the Labor Party elected a new leader, the dovish Amir Peretz, who is demanding early elections.

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Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Israel today for commemorations marking the anniversary of the killing of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Aides said Rice also came to persuade Israelis and Palestinians to revive negotiations. NPR's Linda Gradstein reports that her visit comes at a tumultuous time in Israeli domestic politics.

LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:

Secretary Rice told a think tank here that there are new opportunities for peace and urged both sides to do more to help that happen. She said Israel must do more to improve daily life for the Palestinians.

Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (State Department): Greater freedom of movement is a key for Palestinians, from shopkeepers to farmers to restaurant owners and for all seeking early--easier access to their economic livelihoods.

GRADSTEIN: In fact, Israel today announced it will allow 10,000 Palestinian workers into Israel. But Palestinians say Israeli army checkpoints throughout the West Bank still impede their movement. In her speech, Secretary Rice hardened her tone as she talked about what Palestinians must do.

Sec. RICE: And let us be very clear about one other matter. Dismantling the infrastructure of terrorism is essential for peace, because in the final analysis, no democratic government can tolerate armed parties with one foot in the realm of politics and one foot in the camp of terrorism.

(Soundbite of applause)

GRADSTEIN: Since the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza was completed two months ago, there's been little further progress. Special US Mideast envoy James Wolfensohn met today with Israel's defense minister and a senior Palestinian security official. They had hoped to finalize an agreement over the crossings for goods and people in and out of Gaza. Israeli analysts said Secretary Rice had hoped to announcement an agreement on that issue while she was here, but Israeli officials said they were unable to complete a deal.

Tomorrow, Secretary Rice meets the Israeli and Palestinian leaders separately. At the same event where Rice spoke, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sounded an optimistic note.

Prime Minister ARIEL SHARON (Israel): (Through Translator) After the death of Yasser Arafat and the election of Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian leader and the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, the Palestinian Authority has undergone a positive change. After a long period, there is an opportunity to advance the peace process and the road map.

GRADSTEIN: But Sharon went on to say the Palestinian Authority has done nothing to wipe out what he called the `terrorist infrastructure.'

Sharon did not mention his own political future. Israeli politics was thrown into turmoil last week when the center-left Labor Party elected a new chairman, fiery trade union leader Amir Peretz. Peretz says his first priority is to pull Labor out of the current government, which would mean Sharon loses his parliamentary majority and Israel will hold early elections. Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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