US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is set to propose "new ideas" to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas during her trip to the region, according to a statement released by officials from the PA chairman's office on Friday. In addition, Abbas is due to suggest an alternate plan for the establishment of a Palestinian state, namely, a temporary state in accordance with the route of the security fence, the officials said.
Rice rejects dialogue with Iran, Syria
On Thursday, diplomatic sources said that the US administration was concerned by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's weak public standing and unsure of what or how much he can deliver, on the eve of Rice's journey.
According to the sources, Olmert's political woes have undermined his stature in the eyes of the administration, and although he is liked personally in Washington he is not deemed a leader with the political capital able to deliver - an assessment similar to the one Washington has of Abbas.
For this reason, according to diplomatic sources in Jerusalem, it was unlikely that Rice would be carrying any dramatic initiative with her on her current visit. Instead, her trip to Israel and the Palestinian Authority has been described as a "fact-finding" mission designed to determine what can realistically be expected, considering the complicated domestic situations facing both Abbas and Olmert.
Rather than coming here with a concrete plan or with the intention of trying to impose anything on the parties, Rice was expected to concentrate on trying to achieve progress in specific areas, such as improving the humanitarian situation in the territories and looking for ways to curb terrorism.
Rice, who was last here in the beginning of October, is scheduled to arrive Saturday night and hold separate meetings with Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
Both Peretz and Livni - independent of Olmert - have recently floated diplomatic plans that are variations on the Quartet-backed road map. Rice is expected to try to clarify these positions to get a clearer sense of Israeli government policy.
A State Department official declined to comment on whether the various plans coming out of Israel were adding confusion to the American diplomatic efforts, saying, "We're confident that we can move the process forward effectively."
The official said that the road map "remains the agreed-upon process for advancing the peace process, and obviously we want to engage the parties to work very hard on implementing the requirements of the road map." In terms of Rice offering new initiatives, he said, "I don't think that's a direction we're heading in."
Meanwhile, President of Palestinian Authority's Hamas-led government, Ismail Haniyeh, said Rice's visit is meant to bypass the chosen leaders of the Palestinian people.
"This visit is part of American-Zionists efforts to bypass the results of the elections, but the Palestinian nation will not accept this external interference before its eyes," Haniyeh said.
Rice is scheduled to meet with Abbas in Ramallah on Sunday, and then go to Jordan for a meeting with King Abdullah. She will return to Jerusalem that evening and meet with Olmert on Monday. From there she will go to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain.
Her meetings in the Arab countries are expected to concentrate on Iran as well as what those countries can do to provide more assistance to Abbas.
This will be Rice's first visit to the region since the Baker-Hamilton report recommended more intensive US engagement to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israeli sources said that politically, the administration "wants to show that they're trying everything they can."
Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report.