Rice, Olmert to Hold Three-Way Summit with Abbas
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And let's get an update on another conflict in the Middle East, this one between the Israelis and Palestinians. Today, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice conferred with Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert. And later, it was announced that they will be holding a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Rice then traveled to Egypt for talks with its president, Hosni Mubarak.
Earlier we spoke with NPR's Linda Gradstein in Jerusalem and we asked what Rice was trying to accomplish.
LINDA GRADSTEIN: She's trying to basically keep things on track. She lowered expectations before she came, saying she was not coming with any kind of a new plan, that she was hoping just to confer with both sides and to keep a certain momentum going. Israeli and Palestinian officials say she's sort of testing the water, perhaps in advance of a new U.S. push to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and she's also said that she's trying to strengthen moderates in the region, especially Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
INSKEEP: When you say keep momentum going, what momentum?
GRADSTEIN: There was a meeting about a month ago between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, and Olmert promised to ease travel restrictions for Palestinians and to release a hundred million of the money that Israel has frozen in Palestinian taxes and customs revenues since the Hamas government took office. Those promises haven't yet been fulfilled. That was one of the subjects of the meeting this morning. In addition, Secretary Rice pressed Olmert to try to strengthen Abbas. Olmert said he was willing to take, quote, "unprecedented steps" if the Palestinian government met the conditions of recognizing Israel and renouncing violence.
INSKEEP: So I want to understand the context in which all of this is happening. The Bush administration has been pressed to get more involved in the Mideast peace process, not least by this Baker Commission, which wanted a broad Middle Eastern solution as part of solving Iraq, or at least improving Iraq.
INSKEEP: Secretary of State Rice said during this trip, did she not, that she understands loud and clear that Arab allies are demanding a bigger U.S. role, but then she's not actually proposing a bigger U.S. role.
GRADSTEIN: Well, this is all very incremental. These things don't happen, you know, all that fast. And I think the idea is that she shows that the United States is interested in this. You know, I've talked to U.S. administration officials and they said, you know, if you're not moving forward, you're moving backward. And just by coming here she's reminding both sides that the United States does care about this, that the United States is committed to trying to restart some sort of negotiating tactic.
And it's also a sign, I think, to Palestinians, saying - you know, the Palestinians are engaged in an internal struggle; Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has called for new elections - saying to the Palestinian people that if there is a new Palestinian government that is willing to meet the conditions of recognizing Israel and renouncing violence, that perhaps the United States will really work hard in order to try to get a peace process moving again. And the aim of that peace process, the eventual aim of it, is a Palestinian state. So she's trying to show Palestinians that it's in their interest to try to push their government to take these steps.
INSKEEP: Here's something else that's in the Israeli media today anyway. Israel announced new construction in the West Bank?
GRADSTEIN: Yes, 44 new houses in the settlement of Ma'ale Adumim, which is a large settlement of more than 30,000 people a few miles east of Jerusalem. The Israeli group Peace Now condemned the expansion of the settlements and also said that it's bad timing while Secretary Rice is in the region.
INSKEEP: Okay, that's NPR's Linda Gradstein in Jerusalem. Thanks very much.
GRADSTEIN: Thank you.
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