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(photo credit: AP)
The US is trying to block attempts by Arab countries to turn the UN Security Council into a key player in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during the upcoming General Assembly opening next week.
In discussions among Israeli and US officials over the past few days, it was agreed that the US will use its diplomatic power to sideline the Arab League initiative, which intends to use the Security Council as the main vehicle for convening an international peace conference to deal with the conflict.
Instead, US diplomats are working to convince the Arab members of the UN to agree to a presidential statement instead of a UN resolution. The wording of such a statement is now in the works and it will be finalized in a meeting of the Quartet next Wednesday, a day before the Security Council takes on the issue.
US President George W. Bush, who will address the UN General Assembly next week, is expected to repeat in his speech the US commitment for the idea of a two-state solution for the Middle East conflict.
The issue of the new Arab initiative was raised in discussions Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni had in Washington with Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. After the meetings, Livni said that "there is a kind of over-activity lately," referring to the Arab call for an international conference sponsored by the UN. "Israel is not going to cooperate with this kind of a process because this is not the right way to move forward," she added.
Rice stressed on Wednesday, at a joint press conference with Livni, that the US insisted the new Palestinian national unity government live up to the three conditions of the international community before it could be considered a legitimate partner - recognizing Israel's right to exist, renouncing terrorism and accepting previous agreements signed with Israel.
"It goes without saying that it's hard to have a partner for peace if you don't accept the right of the other partner to exist," Rice said. "It goes without saying that it's hard to have a process for peace if you do not renounce violence."
At the same time, the US is also focusing on the need for Israel to negotiate with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas even after his Fatah party enters a national unity government with Hamas.
"He is someone who personally accepts the Quartet principles and accepts the responsibility to move the Palestinian people away from conflict and toward peace. And we will continue to deal with him," Rice said, standing alongside Livni at the State Department.
The Israeli reading of the situation in the PA is somewhat different. Israeli sources said they believed that Abbas was intentionally keeping details of the national unity government guidelines vague, to "create an atmosphere of change in the PA," which he will use as his "entry ticket" to the international community during his visit to the UN next week.
At the same time, Israelis and Americans believe that the pressure on the PA is beginning to bear fruit, citing Palestinian attempts to form a new government and reach out to the world.
According to Israeli sources, the US and Israel both agree that there is now a vacuum in the Middle East peace process, after the unilateral realignment plan has been shelved and the Arab initiative was not accepted by Israel or the US. The sources said even though the road map was the only plan all sides agreed upon, it was difficult to implement it due to the reluctance of the Palestinians to move forward.
At her press conference in Washington, Livni stressed that Israel was interested in moving forward, saying, "I can assure you that stagnation is not the Israeli government policy."
Livni met Wednesday in Washington with Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. Bush joined the meeting and sat in for 45 minutes. According to sources, he was "warm and welcoming." No further details were given about the meeting.
On Thursday, Livni met with Vice President Dick Cheney and with members of Congress. After Washington, Livni will travel to New York for meetings at the UN General Assembly.