Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told American Jewish leaders Tuesday that Israel, confident of U.S. security backing, needs to make difficult choices necessary for peace with the Palestinians. Rice is preparing to host an international conference aimed at expediting Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
Rice says that what is at stake in the current diplomacy is nothing less that the future of the Middle East.
And while saying that all the parties need to be prepared to compromise, she focused on Israel, which she said enjoys unquestionable and unshakable U.S. security support and needs to make hard decisions, confidently, for the sake of peace.
Addressing a conference of American Jewish leaders and community activists in Nashville, Tennessee, Rice said violent extremists led by Iran are doing all they can to impose what she termed their hate-filled ideologies on the people of the Middle East.
She said this makes the current quest for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more urgent than ever, in order to give Palestinians a realistic prospect of statehood and to, as she put it, arrest their slide into despair:
"That ladies and gentlemen is my fear, that if Palestinian reformers cannot deliver on their peoples hope for an independent state, then the moderate center could collapse, and the next generation of Palestinians could become lost souls of unbridled extremism," she said.
Rice heaped praise on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as a true partner for peace with Israel and said a responsible Palestinian state can be a bulwark against regional extremists. She said getting there will require hard choices from all the parties including the United States' Arab allies.
"Israelis and Palestinians alike need to recognize that peace will require difficult, painful sacrifices to some of their longest-held aspirations. The same is true for responsible Arab states. If our Arab friends of long-standing truly desire peace, then they need to demonstrate to their people and to the world that they beleive that Israel has a permanent home in the Middle East," she said.
Rice, who returned from her latest mission to the Middle East last week, is trying to persuade key Arab moderates like Saudi Arabia to attend the U.S.-sponsored conference, planned for Annapolis, Maryland as early as the last week of this month.
Aides say she may make yet another trip to the area before the conference that will focus on enlisting Arab support and participation.
Rice said the Annapolis meeting will be serious and substantive but will neither replace the 2003 international Middle East peace road map nor supplant direct negotiations between the parties.