Both US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni affirmed their commitment to the road map as the best way to advance the stalled peace process when they spoke to reporters in Jerusalem on Saturday. In spite of speculation that Rice would arrive in the region on Saturday with a new plan or that Livni would present her with one, the two leaders spoke of their commitment to the Quartet-backed document that Israel signed onto in 2003 and on which little progress has been made.
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Rice told reporters in Jerusalem that "one of the great values of the road map is that it has international support. It is the Quartet's document. It is Israel's document. It is the Palestinians' document. It has, therefore, a very important function.
"We should never, as we look for ways to push forward, throw out the good work that we have done before," said Rice.
The secretary of state landed in Israel on Saturday for a weeklong trip that includes a meeting on Sunday with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday. She then heads to Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and Germany. In her visit here and in Arab countries she plans to talk about Iran, Iraq and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Both she and Livni spoke of the importance of a two-state solution.
"The objective is clear, two states living side-by-side in peace," Livni said. "The elections in the Palestinian Authority have made matters more complicated. Our responsibility is to give the Palestinians a political horizon as well as to provide safety to Israelis in Sderot."
While Livni has spoken and intended to speak with Rice about the need to make clear to moderate Palestinians what could be offered to them in the second stage of the road map, sources said she in no way intends to advocate skipping a stage in that plan.
"Maybe we can make the political horizon [for the Palestinians] more concrete," Livni told reporters in Jerusalem, adding that there was a difference between that direct approach and ignoring a phase of the road map.
Defense sources would not say if the diplomatic plan that Peretz unveiled last week to end the conflict within a year was raised during his meeting with Rice on Saturday.
The meeting between the two lasted 70 minutes, 10 longer than scheduled, according to defense sources. Outside of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the two officials talked about Syria, Lebanon and Iran and explored ways to confront extremists in the region.
During the meeting, Peretz asked Rice to continue to work on behalf of the three captive soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser, Eldad Regev and Gilad Shalit. Also present at the meeting were Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh and Amos Gilad, who heads the ministry's political-defense bureau.
In meeting with Rice, Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman also raised the issue of Shalit.
He argued for international military involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He told Rice that it was only a matter of time before the IDF goes back into Gaza. He added that any military gains Israel would make there could only be maintained with the assistance of 30,000 NATO troops. It was not known what Rice's response was.
In speaking of the conflict, Rice told reporters on Saturday, "This is a very important and challenging time in the Middle East, but a time that I believe does have promise if we exercise our responsibilities with creativity and with resolve."
While en-route to Israel on Friday, Rice told reporters in Ireland that during her two-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories she wanted to listen to all parties involved in the dispute, because "no plan can be made in America." She added that "I'm not coming with a proposal. I'm not coming with a plan."
This is Rice's third visit to the region since October and her first since the Baker-Hamilton report recommended more intensive US engagement to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But while Rice has spoke of the opportunity that now exists to move forward, she comes at a time when neither Olmert nor Abbas are perceived as powerful and strong leaders.
Rice also arrived at a moment when Europeans are concerned that that in light of the 2008 US presidential election, there is little time left for the Bush administration to advance change in the region.
On Friday, the European Union's foreign policy chief Javier Solana warned that there was a narrow window by which to reactivate the peace process. The EU has to do everything possible to make that happen, he said.
"If in the first semester of 2007 we don't get the process at least framed, I don't say finished, but framed, I have my doubts that we will be able to do it before 2008," Solana said.
AP contributed to this report.