The Palestinians are not pinning high hopes on US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's current visit, saying Washington has yet to change its opposition to the proposed Palestinian Authority unity government and to pressurize Israel to channel funds to the PA.
Rice is scheduled to meet here on Wednesday with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and some of his top advisers to discuss ways of reviving the peace process and supporting Fatah in the ongoing struggle with Hamas.
Earlier in the day, Rice will hold talks at the US Consulate in east Jerusalem with a number of Palestinians, including top Fatah operative Hussein al-Sheikh, who is closely associated with the Aksa Martyrs Brigades. Kadura Fares, another senior Fatah official and former PA minister, has also been invited, as have independent legislators Hanan Ashrawi and Mustafa Barghouti.
It's not clear why the four Palestinians, who are all residents of Ramallah, were invited to meet Rice in east Jerusalem.
Following her meeting with Abbas, Rice will meet with Yasser Abed Rabbo, a member of the PLO executive committee, and Fatah legislator and warlord Muhammad Dahlan.
Rice is also scheduled to hold a dinner meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. She will meet separately with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Amir Peretz on Thursday, before returning to Washington.
Rice's planned talks come at the peak of the power struggle between Fatah and Hamas. At least 12 Palestinians have been killed and more than 150 wounded in fierce clashes between the two sides since Sunday.
Rice addressed those clashes at a press conference she held with Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal in Jeddah on Tuesday, before going to Cairo for a meeting with the foreign ministers of Jordan, Egypt and the Gulf Cooperation Council, made up of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Kuwait.
Innocent Palestinians are caught in this violence and in this crossfire, and we call on all parties to stop, that the Palestinian people deserve calm," she said.
Rice said that while the US recognized that Hamas was duly elected, "it has been unable to join the consensus, including consensus in the Arab world, that the route to a better life for the Palestinian people is through the road map, through the Arab Initiative and through a twostate solution."
She said it was clear that Hamas could not govern "in a circumstance in which they cannot represent a responsible government before the international system," and she hoped Hamas would take up Abbas's "overtures."
"I think the answer politically is for the Palestinians to find a government that can be committed to the principles outlined by the Quartet but embodied in all of those international documents that have been accepted by Palestinians for decades," she said.
Rice's visit coincides with the failure of negotiations over the establishment of a unity government on the basis of a political platform that would be acceptable to the US and the rest of the international community.
The US is vehemently opposed to a unity government that does not openly recognize Israel's right to exist and previous agreements between the Palestinians and Israel.
PA officials said Washington had made it clear that it would prefer to see Abbas dissolve the Palestinian Legislative Council and form a new government that would not include Hamas.
A senior PA official here said Abbas will ask Rice for financial and security aid for Fatah and loyalists in the PA security forces.
"The president will tell Rice that without money and weapons Fatah will not be able to confront the growing threat from Hamas," he said. "The bloody clashes that occurred in the past few days are only an indication of what lies ahead."
According to the official, Abbas will also tell Rice that Syria and Iran were inciting Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal not to agree to the formation of a unity government with Fatah and that the two countries are also behind Mashaal's refusal to accept Egyptian proposals for the release of Gilad Shalit.
"We don't expect Rice to come up with anything new," said a source close to Abbas. "There can be no progress or breakthrough unless the US exerts pressure on Israel to return to the negotiating table and release frozen tax revenues belonging to the Palestinians. The US must also work toward reopening all the border crossings between the Gaza Strip and the outside world to help resolve the severe economic crisis there. But the Americans don't seem to be interested at this stage in putting enough pressure on Israel."
Barghouti said he did not expect much from Rice's current tour. "There can be no hope as long as the US does not understand that the real problem is the occupation," he said. "The only solution lies in ending the occupation."
He said he and his colleagues were planning to raise during the talks the issue of the tax revenues held by Israel which, he added, are estimated at more than $500 million.
PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, meanwhile, called on Arab states not to cooperate with Rice's efforts.
"It looks like Rice is adopting the old practice of divide and conquer," Haniyeh told reporters in Gaza City. "She wants to weaken the states and the nations of the region. We call on all of the Arab countries not to follow the American plans and not to adopt this policy that aims to divide the region.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.
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