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Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice heads back to the Middle East this evening with little expectation of reviving the dormant Arab-Israeli peace process. One problem for her is the new Palestinian unity government. She's been trying to boost the moderate president of the Palestinian Authority, but that's more difficult now that his Fatah movement is in the government with Hamas.
NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN: Secretary Rice has been trying to walk a fine line. She reassured members of Congress this week that she'll scale back a plan to train and equip forces loyal to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and will do her best to make sure the money doesn't fall into the hands of Hamas, which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization.
Israel has rejected dealings with the unity government, but Rice still thinks it's important to go ahead with this trip.
Ms. CONDOLEEZZA RICE (U.S. Secretary of State): I think it is extremely important to continue to show American commitment to the development of a political horizon so that the Palestinian people can see that their future rests with moderate forces, not with those forces that are extreme. In that regard, frankly, the formation of the Palestinian unity government has provided something of a challenge.
KELEMEN: She said its platform doesn't reflect what she calls the principles of peace. She and her European counterparts have agreed to maintain a ban on aid to the Palestinian government until it renounces violence and recognizes Israel. The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, says he'll be watching deeds, not just words. And he pointed out at the Brookings Institution this week that the EU has still been aiding the Palestinians, just not through the government.
Mr. JAVIER SOLANA (Chief of Foreign Policy, European Union): We never let the Palestinian people down. Every single year we have paid more to the Palestinian people. We have spent more - we, the Europeans - because we believe in that.
KELEMEN: But Robert Malley, of the International Crisis Group, who just returned from the region, says the impression he got was that this effort to embargo Hamas while helping the people has backfired.
Mr. ROBERT MALLEY (International Crisis Group): Well, they've been funneling more money, more inefficiently, less transparently, and with less accountability than they would if they went through the treasury, which now is under the control of somebody who has great international respect, Salam Fayyad.
KELEMEN: Malley argues that the U.S. and Europe don't need to embrace the unity government, but will have to accept it as a reality. That's a thought echoed by Aaron David Miller, who advised six previous secretaries of state on Arab-Israeli negotiations and is now with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Mr. AARON DAVID MILLER (Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars): If in fact there is going to be anything resembling a meaningful negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians, Hamas is going to have to either acquiesce in it, sanction it, or under different circumstances become part of it.
KELEMEN: As for Rice's trip, Miller says it will have to be one of many if she expects to get anything done.
Mr. MILLER: With great respect for her, I think she's facing the possibility that she has 18 months to demonstrate that she can be a consequential secretary of state. And the way you become a consequential secretary of state is that you take an issue, you manage it and you make it better in a way that normal human beings can say, you know, she really did something.
KELEMEN: The last time Rice went to the Middle East she brought Mahmoud Abbas together with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, but on this trip she plans to shuttle between them. She also plans to visit Jordan and Egypt.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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