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Rice Pushes for Increased Israeli-Palestinian Dialogue


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice shuttled between Israel and Jordan as she neared the end of her fourth Middle East mission in as many months. Rice told reporters in Jerusalem she wants to expedite, not control, dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians. VOA's David Gollust is traveling with Rice in Jerusalem.

Secretary of State Rice is hoping, by the end of her trip Tuesday, to be able to make some sort of arrangement with Israel and the Palestinians that would regularize the contacts she has been having with them on final status issues that would need to be resolved for a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict.

Israel is understood to be reluctant to be rushed into any formal dialogue with the Palestinians, especially in the wake of the national unity agreement that leaves the radical Islamic movement Hamas in control of the Palestinian cabinet under Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

At a joint news appearance with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Secretary Rice said she viewed herself only as a facilitator of the dialogue between the two parties, and not in charge of it.

"I do not intend by any means to take control of the Palestinian-Israeli bilateral dialogue. It is extremely important that it continue. I made that clear the last time I was here," said Rice. "But my role is to assist the parties, and I have been doing it this time in parallel and I think that is good way to do it, to explore the issues before them, the possibilities of a political horizon - but also concrete issues of how to deal with their daily lives."

Foreign Minister Livni said her government believes that there is a place for U.S. facilitated peace talks, even though Israel has ruled out talks with the new Palestinian government and has been critical of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for entering into the arrangement with Hamas.

"I do believe, as Secretary Rice said, that there are a lot of things, what we call the political horizons - things that we can discuss in order to find the common denominator and the mutual interests between Israel and the Palestinians - those who want to reach this goal, to achieve this goal of two states living side-by-side in peace and security, of course, to Israel," said Livni, "and we have to explore it. It is part of our responsibility to our people."

Rice held a final round of meetings with Israeli officials, after a brief trip to Amman to see Jordan's King Abdallah and to have her second meeting of the trip with Mr. Abbas.

Rice's mission is on the eve of this week's Arab League summit, which is expected to reaffirm the organization's 2002 peace overture to Israel. It essentially offers Israel normal relations with the Arab world if it reaches a two-state settlement with the Palestinians, resolving critical issues including Jerusalem and refugees.

Israeli leaders have spoken favorably about the plan, but say it should be amended to limit the resettlement of refugees to the envisaged Palestinian state, among other things.

Though Arab leaders say they oppose altering the plan to deal with Israeli concerns, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal suggested the Arab League might be amenable to "additions" to the plan to reflect events since 2002.

Rice, who has called for Arab League outreach to Israel, declined to respond to the remarks. But she said she had good discussions with Prince Saud and foreign ministers of other moderate Arab states Sunday in Egypt on how the Arab initiative can play an active role in pursuing peace.

She also described as premature reports that the international Middle East quartet - the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations - might hold a joint meeting in the region soon with Israel and the Palestinians and Arab moderates including Saudi Arabia.