U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, meeting Sunday in Ramallah, said an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord is still achievable. But Rice heard bitter Palestinian complaints about Israeli security roadblocks and settlements in the West Bank. VOA's David Gollust reports from Ramallah.
Both Rice and Abbas said the goal of getting an agreement by year's end is still possible.
But at a news conference following a meeting with the Secretary of State, the Palestinian chief sounded less than optimistic, and complained that Israel is failing to meet international commitments to curb settlements and ease movement and access restrictions in the West Bank.
Heard through an interpreter, Abbas said Palestinians, after years of disappointment, have to believe that an accord can be achieved.
"The intent is to reach an agreement for all the core issues," Mr. Abbas said. "And this is what we want. If we cannot achieve that, then we should think of the steps that we should take. We do not want for now to think about failure. We do not want to set ourselves up for failure. We want our focus on success, and if we fail we go back to our people and see what next steps could be taken."
Rice described Israeli settlements in the West Bank as particularly problematic to efforts to establish a Palestinian state. She said the United States opposes any action by either side that would prejudice the outcome of negotiations:
"As to settlements, 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, and that means doing nothing certainly that would suggest there is any prejudicing of the final terms for final status negotiations," Rice said.
Rice also said she is pressing Israel to make good on a commitment made to her in March to remove 50 roadblocks in the West Bank to help improve the Palestinian economy. Palestinians say even if Israel keeps the pledge, it is taking down a number of minor barriers that had little impact on daily life.
Rice, who met with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak earlier, said they had an extensive discussion of the roadblock issue, and that she is looking not just at the quantity - but also the quality - of Israeli steps to improve living conditions.
The Secretary of State stressed there are legitimate security concerns for Israel, whose forces are on a high state of alert in advance of country's observance of its 60th independence anniversary later this month.
Rice will return for those observances in less than two weeks with President Bush, who also will try to advance the peace process with talks in Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.