Accessibility links

Rice Begins Mideast Peace Mission

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has begun a two-day peace mission to the Middle East. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, the talks will focus on the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Secretary Rice meets with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem, Wednesday, before heading to the West Bank, Thursday, for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The parties are hammering out a document on Palestinian statehood to be presented at an international peace conference in the United States, probably in November.

Israeli spokesman Mark Regev says Israel wants to strengthen the Abbas government in the West Bank, after the Islamic militant group Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in a Palestinian civil war, three months ago.

"Obviously we deal with the legitimate Palestinian government and the current Palestinian government is headed by people who are moderate, people who are pragmatic and people who are committed to peace. And we want to work with them," he said.

But Israel and the Palestinians have drastically different visions for the document on Palestinian statehood. Israel wants a vague declaration of principles. The Palestinians want commitments on final status issues, such as Jerusalem, refugees and borders. President Abbas says that would be a breakthrough.

"If we conclude it, I believe that when we present it to the international conference it will be a good sign to reach to the peace treaty with the Israelis," he said.

However, the Palestinians are threatening not to attend the peace conference if Israel does not go beyond vague declarations.

During her brief visit here, Secretary of State Rice will try to bridge the gaps.