Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni indicated Sunday Israel may uproot some of its West Bank settlements as part of a peace accord with the Palestinians. Livni spoke at the start of a meeting Sunday with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. VOA's David Gollust reports from Jerusalem.
Palestinians have bitterly complained about recent Israeli moves to add housing units to West Bank settlements, even as negotiators for the two sides are working for a peace accord by year's end, as pledged at last November's Annapolis conference.
But at a joint press appearance with Rice as the Secretary neared the end of a two-day visit to the region, Livni noted that Israel dismantled its Gaza settlements in the disengagement of 2005, and said that settlements are no barrier to the broader peace process:
"I would like to say clearly that while negotiating the final status issues - the borders and territory of a future Palestinian state, we showed especially in the disengagement plan from the Gaza strip that settlements are not an obstacle when it comes to - well it was not a peace process - but when there was a need for Israel to withdraw and to send a message of peace, we also dismantled the settlements," said Tzipi Livni.
Livni said the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stopped building new settlements and confiscating land from Palestinians, and has no hidden agenda to effect a land grab before a peace accord is concluded.
Earlier Sunday in Ramallah, Rice heard harsh criticism of Israeli policy from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who accuses Israel of undermining peace talks by settlement building and refusing to remove hundreds of security checkpoints in the West Bank.
Israel promised to remove 50 roadblocks during an earlier Rice visit in March, but Palestinians say many of those taken down were in remote places and their removal has not materially improved West Bank movement and access.
Rice told reporters she had raised the checkpoint issue earlier Sunday with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and that she is interested in not just the quantity, but also the quality, of Israeli steps to improve the everyday lives of Palestinians.
As to settlements, she said the United States opposes action by either side that would prejudge the outcome of negotiations:
"The United States continues to hold the view that settlement activity is contrary to Roadmap obligations, and continues to raise with the Israelis the importance of creating an atmosphere that is conducive to negotiations of the final-status agreement," said Condoleezza Rice. "And that means doing nothing certainly that would suggest there is any prejudicing of the final terms for final status negotiations."
The Secretary took part in two trilateral meetings with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators. But she has avoided comment on the substance of the peace talks and scrapped plans to brief State Department reporters late Sunday.
She scheduled a second meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Olmert for Monday before her scheduled departure for Washington. Olmert has become the subject of a police investigation on reported corruption charges, a development that could threaten the survival of his centrist coalition government.
Rice told reporters the probe is an internal matter for Israel. She said had a very good discussion with Mr. Olmert Saturday and expects the dialogue to continue as the drive for a peace accord in 2008 continues.