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Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hosted a rare meeting between Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Jerusalem today. Afterwards, Rice told reporters that all three parties said they were committed to a two-state solution. But the talks were overshadowed by American and Israeli disappointment with a new power-sharing agreement between rival Palestinian factions.
From Jerusalem, NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.
ERIC WESTERVELT: Secretary Rice had downplayed expectations for the meetings between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, calling the talks informal discussions that, as she put it, would explore where we are. After the morning talks, Secretary Rice appeared alone and read a short statement saying the two leaders had reaffirmed the commitment to peace talks and would meet again soon.
Ms. CONDOLEEZZA RICE (U.S. Secretary of State): The president and the prime minister discussed their views of the diplomatic and political horizon, and how it might unfold toward the two-state vision of President Bush.
WESTERVELT: Rice said the leaders also affirmed that a Palestinian state cannot be borne of violence and terror, and reiterated acceptance of previous agreements and obligations. Today's talks were clouded by Israeli and Western disapproval with the recently signed unity agreement between Abbas and the ruling Islamist group Hamas. The deal fails to meet Western demands that Hamas disavow violence and recognize Israel. But Abbas has said the accord was the best he could get and was vital to stop the growing factional violence in Gaza.
Secretary Rice said the U.S. will withhold full judgment for now until the new government is formed and sworn in. But she reiterated this weekend that any Palestinian government would ultimately have to meet Western conditions spelled out to Hamas.
Ms. RICE: This is the foundation for peace. How can you have a two-state solution if one state isn't - its existence isn't recognized? How can you have a two-state solution in a road map to peace if you don't rid out the violence?
WESTERVELT: Both Abbas and Olmert are hobbled by internal political strife and declining popularity. Israeli political analyst, Shau Mushaf(ph) says despite tough talk by Olmert about shunning a Palestinian unity government, the prime minister knows that Abbas is the only partner he's got right now.
Mr. SHAU MUSHAF (Political Analyst, Israel): No matter what you're think objectively about President Abbas, there is no a better actor within the Palestinian in order to deliver the good, namely to continue some kind of a dialogue.
WESTERVELT: That dialogue centers on the U.S.-backed road map peace plan, which calls for an eventual Palestinian state in Gaza and the Israeli occupied West Bank. Neither side has lived up to initial road map commitments: the Palestinians to disarm militant and terrorist groups, and for Israel to halt settlement expansions in the West Bank and to dismantle illegal outposts. In a meeting with U.S. reporters Sunday night, Secretary Rice called for both sides to do more.
Ms. RICE: We need performance by all Palestinian leaders on security issues. We need performance by Israeli officials on their obligation, not just in the road map, but, you know, there are series of agreements that have come about in this period.
WESTERVELT: Agreements including a late 2005 accord brokered personally by Secretary Rice on freeing up the movement of goods and people in the West Bank and Gaza. According to the U.N., exports from Gaza through the main goods terminal, Karni, remain at just 12 percent of the goals set out in that agreement. And statistics from the European Union and the U.N. show that the Raffa crossing into Egypt, the cornerstone of the 2005 agreement, has been closed more than 80 percent of the time since an Israeli soldier was captured in a cross-border raid last June.
Political analyst Said Zeedani of Al-Quds University says few Palestinians see the Bush administration as willing or able to deliver on promised progress on the ground.
Professor SAID ZEEDANI (Political Analyst, Al-Quds University): I think he does not do anything single value over the six and a half years, really. They expressed their commitment to a vision, but they do almost nothing in order to promote it.
WESTERVELT: Zeedani says leadership is also lacking among Palestinians and Israelis to turn today's talks into something more substantive in the long term toward a two-state solution. No date has been set for any new meetings.
Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Jerusalem.
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