Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia has welcomed the offer of an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, but says he wants to return to the negotiating table as soon as possible. And, in talks with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, he also appealed for help to end the Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes to enlarge a security zone in Gaza.
Speaking after his meeting with Ms. Rice, Prime Minister Qureia welcomed the Israeli offer to evacuate all Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip, but said it can only be part of a wider negotiated agreement.
Mr. Qureia said serious negotiations are needed with the support of the international sponsors of the road map peace plan, the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union. He said experience shows that giving the process all the time it needs has not worked, so he wants the fastest possible return to the negotiating table.
The Palestinian prime minister also urged the United States to stop Israel from destroying more homes in Gaza, where it is widening a security zone where five Israeli soldiers were killed last week.
Ms. Rice said the United States is discussing the issue with Israel, but she made no promises.
The talks in the German capital follow Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's visit to Washington last month, when President Bush endorsed his unilateral Gaza withdrawal plan. The U.S. decision was very controversial among Arab countries. Mr. Qureia met Saturday with Secretary of State Colin Powell in Jordan.
Palestinians are concerned that the road map's promise of statehood next year is now impossible because the process has been stalled for so long. But Ms. Rice said the goal is still achievable.
"When things start to move, they can move very rapidly," she said. "But you really have to get started. And what I wanted to emphasize today to Prime Minster Qureia is that we really want to see the Palestinians get started on their part of the road map."
President Bush's national security adviser described her one-and-one-half-hour meeting with Mr. Qureia as good, and said they discussed the establishment of the institutions needed to begin preparing for Palestinian statehood.