America's top diplomat is in the Middle East trying to get the peace
process back on track. Robert Berger reports from the VOA bureau in
Israeli settlement expansion topped the agenda as
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met separately with Israeli and
Palestinian leaders. Rice used exceptionally harsh language to condemn
Israel's announcement on Friday that it plans to build 1,300 new homes
in disputed East Jerusalem, on land the Palestinians claim for their
"I do believe and the United States believes
that the actions and the announcements that are taking place are indeed
having a negative effect on the atmosphere for negotiation," said
Condoleezza Rice. "And that is not what we want. We should be in a
position of encouraging confidence, not undermining it."
Rice spoke at a news conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah.
believe that settlement is the highest hurdle on the road of our
political endeavors," said Mahmoud Abbas. "With the continued expansion
and building of settlements the more tough the hurdle would become."
says it has the right to build anywhere in Jerusalem because it will
remain the capital of the Jewish state in any final peace agreement.
Despite the obstacles, Rice said both sides remain committed to the peace process.
are all devoted to and believe that it is possible to establish the
agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis for the
establishment of a Palestinian state by the end of the year," said
But that goal is in doubt because in addition to
the settlements, gaps are wide on core issues like Palestinian refugees
and the status of Jerusalem.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud
Olmert is also embroiled in a corruption scandal that could force him
to step down. In the meantime, Mr. Olmert is widely seen as too weak
to close a peace deal involving major territorial concessions to the