The Bush administration said Thursday it expects the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza to be followed by actions by both Israel and the Palestinians to fulfill peace-making commitments.
The tone was set by Secretary Rice, who in a New York Times interview Thursday, hailed the courage of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the sacrifice of Israelis in bringing about the disengagement, but also said the process cannot be Gaza-only.
While the Israeli leader has spoken of a cooling-off period after the Gaza pullout, Ms. Rice told the newspaper Israel should take further steps soon, including loosening travel restrictions and withdrawing from West Bank towns it reoccupied amid recent violence.
At the same time, the secretary said the Palestinian Authority must take its own steps, moving quickly to disarm Palestinian factions intent on breaking the current cease-fire including the radical Islamic group, Hamas.
At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the secretary's comments were no policy departure for the administration.
He said the United States envisages a horizon beyond the Gaza withdrawal, including action by both sides on the "road map," and on pledges Mr. Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas made at their Sharm el-Sheikh summit in Egypt in February.
"We support the road map as a political way forward so the two parties can achieve what they both want: two states living side by side in peace and security," Mr. McCormack said. "We also stand by the Sharm el-Sheikh understandings as well. Again, this is a matter for the two parties to work out. No one can want peace more than the two parties want peace. We stand ready to assist the two parties, as do members of the 'Quartet' and other countries in the region."
The Middle East Quartet, the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia, issued the road map in April of 2003. It calls for reciprocal steps by Israel and the Palestinians leading to a comprehensive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the end of this year, a target officials acknowledge is no longer realistic.
In another development Thursday, the State Department said it had complained to the United Nations over the Palestinian Authority's apparent use of U.N. funds for propaganda activities related to the Gaza withdrawal.
Palestinian marchers in Gaza were photographed early this week with banners carrying the logo of the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) saying, "Gaza Today, the West Bank and Jerusalem Tomorrow."
American Jewish groups and members of Congress have lodged complaints, as did the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton. Spokesman McCormack said the UNDP has admitted its funds, ostensibly provided to support Palestinian media, were misused by the Palestinian Authority.
"The UNDP has indicated that the Palestinian Authority was responsible for the content of the campaign. The United States takes very seriously the need for the UNDP to maintain complete political neutrality," he said. "In this case, the UNDP provided assistance to a political campaign which was, by its very nature, not neutral. And as Ambassador Bolton said yesterday, funding this kind of activity is inappropriate and unacceptable."
U.S. Jewish leaders said the United Nations has a history of violating political neutrality with regard to the Palestinians, including the latest case, and urged U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to investigate.
Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida said it was outrageous that instead of alleviating poverty, the UNDP had allowed Palestinian radicals to spread messages of incitement, during the heat and emotion of the Israeli withdrawal.
A UNDP spokesman said the agency has sought assurances from the Palestinian Authority that no further such materials will be produced with funds he said were provided for official communications efforts.