(photo credit: )
WASHINGTON - In her first-ever appearance before an American-Palestinian crowd, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reiterated her personal commitment and that of the US administration to the creation of an independent Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution.
"I believe that there could be no greater legacy for America than to help to bring into being a Palestinian state for a people who have suffered too long, who have been humiliated too long, who have not reached their potential for too long, and who have so much to give to the international community and to all of us," Rice told an audience of several hundred guests at a gala event of the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP), a US group working to promote the idea of an independent Palestinian state.
"I promise you my personal commitment to that goal," Rice concluded.
Rice compared the vision of Palestinian statehood to that of American independence and the civil rights battles in one of the strongest endorsements from the Bush administration to the idea of an independent Palestinian state.
"I should never have grown up in segregated Birmingham, Alabama to become the secretary of state of the United States of America," Rice said, adding that eventually, once these visions do come true, "we wonder why did anyone ever doubt that it was possible."
Rice emphasized US support to the Palestinian people, by increasing the American foreign aid to the Palestinians to $468 million, and by putting in place an international mechanism which will allow transfer of financial assistance to the Palestinians without going through the Hamas government.
She said that now, after several months of having Hamas in power, the Palestinian people are holding Hamas accountable for the situation in the territories.
"Hamas now faces a hard choice that it has always sought to avoid: Either you are a peaceful political party, or a violent terrorist group - but you cannot be both," Rice said.
The secretary of state also stressed the importance of backing moderate leaders in the Arab world, such as Mahmoud Abbas in Palestine, Fuad Siniora in Lebanon and Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq. She said that one of the goals of her recent trip to the region, her sixth trip since becoming secretary of state, was to "build a support for those people who are trying and who need our help more than ever now."
Ziad Asali, president of the American Task Force on Palestine, said Wednesday that the fact that Rice came to speak at the American-Palestinian event has great importance. At the same time, Asali stressed that it does not reflect a change in policy toward the region, though "sometimes symbolism is more important than substance."