PM meets Rice, as PA frustrated with US

Palestinians official tells 'Post:' "Unrealistic" to expect a breakthrough in talks before year's end.

Rice 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Rice 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Despite the heavy cloud of a new police investigation hovering over him, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert carried on with his routine over the weekend and met visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Saturday night. Olmert, sources in his office said, will continue with business as usual, and is expected to hold a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday. It is still not clear, however, whether Rice will take part in that meeting. Rice arrived on Saturday evening for a 36-hour visit at a time of increasing Palestinian impatience with the pace and progress of the negotiations. A senior PA official in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post that in the wake of Abbas's recent talks in Washington with US President George W. Bush and Rice, it was "unrealistic" to expect a breakthrough between the Palestinians and Israelis before the end of the year. The official accused the Bush administration of bias toward Israel. Rice is scheduled to meet on Monday with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, as well as with Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad. It is likely she will hold trilateral discussions with Barak and Fayad, as well as with Livni and chief PA negotiator Ahmed Qurei. Rice is scheduled to meet again with Olmert on Monday, before departing. "The Americans have adopted the Israeli policy," the Palestinian official said. "When you hear Bush, you think you are listening to Ehud Olmert." The official said the PA was no longer pinning any hope on the administration to help achieve an agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis. "The Bush administration has lost it credibility as an honest broker," he said. "We will now have to wait for the next US administration." Abbas emerged from his talks with Bush and Rice "angry and depressed," the official said, and was shocked to learn that the US administration had no intention of pressuring Israel with regards to settlement construction in the West Bank. "President Abbas felt as if he was talking to the wall," the PA official said. "Both Bush and Rice refused to discuss details related to the current peace talks with Israel. We are very disappointed." Sources close to Abbas said he had not been in good health ever since he returned from Washington. Last week, Abbas underwent a heart catheterization procedure in a Jordanian hospital. Nimer Hammad, an adviser to Abbas, said US policy in the region had failed "because Washington was only encouraging the parties to negotiate, without real intervention." Abbas briefed Bush during his visit to Washington on the obstacles threatening the peace process, especially the continued construction in settlements, Hammad said, but Bush did not want to go into details and asked to postpone the talks until Rice's visit to the region. Fayad, in what sounded like a concerted effort to blame Israel for the slow pace of the talks, also warned in London on Friday that the peace talks could collapse unless Israel changed course and took a more "conciliatory approach" in negotiations. "Israel has failed to meet any of its obligations from the road map, including a freeze in settlement activity," he said. "That is most troubling. Unless that changes, the diplomatic process is being stripped of its meaning." Fayad gave a highly pessimistic progress report after meeting with Livni, who was also in London to take part in a meeting of donor countries to the PA. Livni and Fayad met after a meeting of the Middle East Quartet - the US, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations - which urged both sides to fulfill their road map obligations. "The Quartet expressed its deep concern at continuing settlement activity and called on Israel to freeze all settlement activity including natural growth, and to dismantle outposts erected since March 2001," a statement issued after the Quartet meeting read. "It called on the Palestinian Authority to fulfill its commitments to fight terrorism and to accelerate steps to rebuild and refocus its security apparatus." The statement "condemned continuing rocket attacks from Gaza on southern Israel, including against Sderot and Ashkelon, as well as the terrorist attacks at a seminary [the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva] in Jerusalem on March 6," and "expressed deep concern at Palestinian civilian casualties, including the recent death of a mother and four of her children in Gaza." The statement, while calling for "continued emergency and humanitarian assistance and the provision of essential services to Gaza without obstruction," condemned the terrorist attack on the Nahal Oz fuel terminal on April 9, and "noted that such attacks on the Gaza crossings interfere with the supply of essential services and undermine the interests of the Palestinian people." The Quartet discussed Russia's proposal for an international meeting in Moscow, but no final decision on that matter was announced. Rice, at the London meeting, said an agreement on the creation of a Palestinian state was still possible by the end of the year. "It's hard work and it's labor-intensive and I know there's skepticism, but I think they do have a chance to get an agreement by the end of the year, and that's what we're going to work for every day," she said, citing cited Northern Ireland as an example of a conflict that seemed intractable until just before peace was achieved. She said Arab countries that had pledged money to the PA, but had not delivered would be prodded to come up with the promised funding. Last year, a Paris donor meeting netted $7.7 billion in aid pledges to the Palestinians over three years. The money was earmarked both for the Palestinian budget and for reform and development programs. According to US figures, only $215 million out of roughly $835m. pledged by Arab League nations has been handed over to the Palestinians, with the shortfall contributing to the economic and humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. "Clearly when you make a pledge you ought to fulfill it, and that will be my message," Rice said. Livni also met in London Friday with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan. This was Livni's first meeting with Gheit since she harshly criticized Egypt in December for not doing enough to stop arms smuggling from Sinai into the Gaza Strip, and Gheit responded in kind. Livni's office said the two discussed the situation in Gaza, and Gheit invited her to participate in a World Economic Forum meeting in Sharm e-Sheikh in two weeks, a meeting in which Bush was expected to take part. During the meeting with Babacan, the Turkish foreign minister reportedly briefed Livni on the meeting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held in Damascus eight days ago with Syrian President Bashar Assad. Livni's meeting with Babacan comes as Turkey has stepped up its role as a conduit of messages between Jerusalem and Damascus. AP contributed to this report