rice abbas november 7 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks launched a year ago are vibrant, and will continue and eventually lead to a Palestinian state, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday, dismissing the notion that US peace efforts failed because a deal won't be reached by the year-end target.
Speaking after a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Rice also addressed concerns that a possible change of government in Israel and the transition to a new US administration would stall the talks for months. In Israel's February 10 election, Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu is competing against Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who leads the current Israeli negotiating team.
Rice and other Mideast mediators will meet in Egypt on Sunday to get a progress report from Livni and Palestinian negotiators. However, Rice said the negotiators will not go into substance of the talks.
The Quartet of mediators - the US, the UN, the EU and Russia - is expected to reaffirm its support for continued negotiations in the framework set up at a Mideast conference in Annapolis, Maryland, last year.
The talks have so far produced few tangible results.
Still, Rice insisted that there has been progress.
"The distance to that peace has been narrowed, although the peace has not yet been achieved," Rice said in a joint news conference with Abbas. "We knew ... that if that agreement was not reached by the end of the year, that there would be those who would say that the Annapolis process, the negotiations, had failed."
"In fact, it is quite the opposite. The Annapolis process has laid the foundations for the eventual establishment of the state of Palestine," she said. "The Annapolis process ... is vital, it is vibrant, and it is continuing, and I am quite certain that carried to its conclusion, it will produce a state of Palestine."
Rice held out hope that a peace agreement is not too far off.
"While we may not yet be at the finish line, I am quite certain that if Palestinians and Israelis stay on the Annapolis course, they are going to cross that finish line and can do so relatively soon," she said.
Abbas also said the past year has not been in vain.
"We have not lost time. We have used every minute," Abbas said. "That will allow us to move with a new [US] administration and a new Israeli administration to peace."
He urged the incoming US administration "to start immediately dealing with the Middle East issue ... so as not to waste time, without any benefit."
"We hope that the new administration will follow up on this and hear this point of view," he said.
Abbas complained to Rice about continued construction in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, a violation of Israel's obligations as stated in outgoing US President George W. Bush's Road Map.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Abbas expressed concern that Israel might use a possible political vacuum ahead of the Obama inauguration and its own elections to accelerate settlement building.
Rice criticized settlement activity, saying that "both actions and announcements (of new plans) are damaging to the atmosphere of the negotiations."
Earlier Friday, Rice met in Jerusalem with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and with Netanyahu.
Netanyahu later said he's proposing a "new path to peace that will combine political negotiations with rapid economic development for the Palestinians."
However, Netanyahu's positions could make a peace deal harder to achieve, since he's willing to make fewer territorial concessions in the West Bank than the current government and opposes a partition of Jerusalem.
Later Friday, Rice was heading to Jordan, for a meeting with King Abdullah II. As part of her itinerary, she is also visiting the West Bank town of Jenin, once a stronghold of Palestinian terrorists. Several months ago, Abbas's forces deployed in Jenin and it has become a showcase of his law and order campaign.