Rice to Abbas: Its time for a new ME

Palestinians demonstrate in Ramallah against Rice, in support of Nasrallah.

palestinian girl rally  (photo credit: AP)
palestinian girl rally
(photo credit: AP)
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Tuesday with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah following her earlier meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert . "It is time for a new Middle East," Rice said in the meeting. "It is time to say to those that don't want a different kind of Middle East that we will prevail. They will not." Rice admitted that the suffering of all innocent people in the region was disturbing, but nonetheless, did not call on Israel to stop its actions in Lebanon. She stated that the US supported Israel's "neutralization" of the terror group Hizbullah. During the meeting, which included about a dozen US and Palestinian officials, Rice and Abbas talked about getting additional aid to the debt-laden Palestinian government and discussed the state of IDF soldier, Gilad Shalit, captured last month by Hamas terrorists. Rice said she briefed Abbas "on efforts we're making to bring about an urgent but enduring cease-fire in Lebanon, one that can deal with the causes of extremism that began this crisis and that can also lead to the establishment of the sovereignty of the Lebanese government throughout its territory." The secretary of state told Abbas that while she and other allies were engaged in resolving the situation in Lebanon, the US had not forgotten the Palestinians' plight. "I assured the president that we had great concerns about the sufferings of innocent people throughout the region," she told reporters. "All in all, this was a very useful and constructive discussion," Rice said. "We are working with the Palestinian Authority and its duly elected president on multiple fronts. Abbas, meanwhile, renewed a call for an Israeli-Palestinian truce, following a month-long Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip, launched to free Gilad Shalit. "We are exerting all our efforts to release the Israeli soldier," Abbas said, adding that he hoped thousands of Palestinian prisoners would also be freed by Israel. "Israeli aggression in the West Bank and Gaza Strip must stop immediately so we can strengthen the truce and start a political process that aims to end the occupation," he said. Prior to the meeting, Palestinians took to the streets in Ramallah to protest the visit of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The protesters marched towards the Muqata'a compound, chanting slogans in support of Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah, and against US policies in the region. Leaflets distributed in the West Bank and Gaza by representatives of several Palestinian factions called for a "day of rage" [a euphemism for violent protests] against Rice's visit. The groups also called on Abbas to refrain from meeting with Rice. "We reject Rice's visit to the Middle East and we will expose its real goals," read the leaflets, signed by the National and Islamic Forces in Palestine. "This visit comes in the wake of Israel's US-backed comprehensive aggression against the Palestinians and Lebanese." The factions accused Israel of waging a war of "genocide" against the Palestinians and Lebanese after receiving a green light from the US administration. They also strongly condemned the US for vetoing a United Nations Security Council resolution that would have condemned Israel for its offensive operations in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. The Popular Resistance Committees, an alliance of armed organizations, including Hamas and Fatah, called on Abbas to boycott Rice, saying she was planning to hold separate talks about the situations in Lebanon and in the Palestinian territories. In a statement issued in the Gaza Strip, the committees claimed that Rice was "plotting" behind the scenes "to isolate Lebanon from Palestine." The US, the statement continued, wanted to calm the situation in the PA territories to give Israel time to crush Hizbullah. "We call on President Mahmoud Abbas to respect the feelings of the Palestinian people and to refrain from meeting with Rice and succumbing to her arrogant dictates that will only bring our people more humiliation and suffering," the committees said. Osama al-Mazini, a Hamas political leader, said Rice's visit was designed to help Israel following its "defeat" in the PA territories and Lebanon. "The Americans are 120 percent biased in favor of Israel," he said. "That's why Rice is coming to save Israel from defeat and humiliation. The US always intervenes when Israel is in trouble." Islamic Jihad leader Khaled al-Batsh said the main purpose behind Rice's visit was to ensure the continued support of certain Arab governments for the US. "She's also coming here to provide Israel with political and moral support after the severe blows it suffered at the hands of Hizbullah in Lebanon," he said. Palestinian political analysts and commentators also lashed out at the US for supporting Israel. Columnist Imad Afaneh said the US was hoping to punish Syria and Iran through the IDF offensive in Lebanon. "The Americans want to teach Iran and Syria a lesson for using Hizbullah to undermine US influence in the Middle East," he said. "The Americans and the Israelis are also hoping to defeat the Palestinians by waging a war on Hizbullah in Lebanon. "The Americans want a new Middle East devoid of jihad, resistance, liberation, martyrdom, retaliation and dignity. These are all terms that disturb the Americans. "They want to see a Middle East full of Arab presidents, monarchs and princes who serve as slaves for their American masters," Afaneh said. Abdel Bari Atwan, editor-in-chief of the London-based Al-Quds daily, said Rice wanted a new Middle East without Hamas and Hizbullah, where the Arabs would normalize their relations with Israel and form a joint front against Iran. "The Americans' problem is that they have never learned from their past mistakes," he said. "They are continuing to rely on the same corrupt and weak horses in the Middle East."