Rice: I'm not here to 'insert' American ideas

Olmert rice walk 224. (photo credit: GPO)
Olmert rice walk 224.
(photo credit: GPO)
The issue of applying the Evacuation-Compensation Law for West Bank setters should only be dealt with after the borders are defined in an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Sunday morning during a press conference with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Jerusalem. "I still think it's too early to deal with the issue at this point, rather we need to deal with it later in the peace process when the borders are defined," she said, stressing that the government must ultimately assist Jewish settlers in the West Bank that decide to leave their homes. Rice said that Israelis and Palestinians had a shared responsibility to create an atmosphere in which the Palestinians are held accountable for Israeli security concerns and Israel is held accountable for the Palestinians' quality of life. Upon her arrival Saturday, Rice described talks between Israel and the Palestinians as "pretty fruitful," and stressed that she was not bringing any bridging proposals of her own. Rice was hosted for a working supper by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. No statement was issued after the discussions. Speaking on her way to the region, Rice said, "I am not coming to insert American ideas into this process. What is useful right now is for the parties to continue what I think is a pretty fruitful discussion between them." Speaking to reporters aboard her plane, Rice said she would focus on three issues in her two-day visit to the region - easing Palestinian movement and access in the West Bank, monitoring the peace negotiations and keeping neighboring Arab nations involved. "I will spend a good deal of time on issues concerning the West Bank, including ways to improve movement and access," she said, adding that she would like to see "real, concrete progress on the ground." Rice told reporters she would try to bridge some of the gaps between the parties. "Obviously, there are security issues, but we do have to find ways to improve movement," she said. "There are obstacles that are not checkpoints and there are checkpoints that are obstacles. I think you need to look at both." This is the second visit by Rice to the region in three weeks and she is expected here again before President George W. Bush arrives in May. Shortly before he returns to the region, the US president is scheduled to hold talks in Washington with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Both Israel and the Palestinians will be eager to show that progress has been made before the Bush visit. A US diplomatic source told The Jerusalem Post that "obviously progress on road map implementation before the Bush visit would be a good thing," but denied reports that Rice's second visit to the region this month was a sign of Washington's displeasure at the progress of the peace talks. According to the source, the secretary's visit could be interpreted as an indication of the US's "consistent commitment to the Annapolis process." In the four months since the Annapolis conference relaunched the peace process, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have held regular meetings, but neither side has revealed much about the talks. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and the head of the Palestinian negotiating team, Ahmed Qurei, continue to meet about twice a week - an indication, according to some officials, that progress was being made. Rice aided Olmert's efforts to keep his coalition intact when she agreed to delay her arrival until after Shabbat. Rice had intended to arrive at 6:15 p.m. Since Israel changed to summer time early Friday morning, that would have been before the end of the Sabbath. An official in the Prime Minister's Office noticed the problem and alerted associates of Rice, who agreed to delay her arrival to 8 p.m. to avoid offending Shas. "Our presence in the coalition has made such an impression on the government that we did not even have to interfere in order to make sure that the Sabbath would be respected," a Shas spokesman said. "This is just another reason why it is imperative for Shas to remain in the government." Rice also helped Olmert to appease his opposition when she agreed on Friday afternoon to meet with Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu during her trip. Netanyahu's office had complained last week that she had not invited him for talks. The Rice visit has been clouded by Israel's decision to inaugurate the new Judea and Samaria Police Headquarters on Monday in the E-1 area, on a hilltop between Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim. The US has long opposed any Israeli construction in E-1. In addition to the usual discussions with Olmert, Livni, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leaders, Rice has scheduled two tripartite meetings. She will sit together on Sunday morning with Barak and PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad and hold talks together with the leaders of the negotiating teams, Livni and her Palestinian interlocutor Ahmed Qurei. The Israeli leaders will outline a number of goodwill gestures recently made to the Palestinians in an effort to boost the standing of Abbas and to ease the day-to-day life of West Bank Palestinians. Israel granted permission for 25 Russian armored vehicles to be transferred to the West Bank for use by the PA security forces, and the use of other new equipment, including night vision goggles, was also given the green light by Israel. Six hundred PA policemen, currently being trained in Jordan under US supervision, will be allowed to deploy in Jenin in the summer. Israel is also issuing additional permits for Palestinians to cross into Israel and will ease access for Palestinians travelling in the West Bank. Rice will leave Israel on Monday and travel to Jordan for talks with King Abdullah. Gil Hoffman and AP contributed to this report.