Monday, November 14, 2005

US urges revival of peace process

From The Australian:From correspondents in Jerusalem November 14, 2005 ---

VISITING US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has urged Israel and the Palestinians to make new efforts to revive the peace process still bogged down after Israel's pullout from the Gaza Strip.

On the fourth leg of a regional tour, Rice arrived in Israel late on Sunday as Palestinian officials appealed for the swift reopening of the Gaza-Egypt border, which has remained closed since Israel left Gaza on September 12.

Addressing a conference in Jerusalem, Rice said peace was a 'realistic' possibility if both sides took their responsibilities seriously. 'If Palestinians fight terrorism and lawless violence, and advance democratic reform, and if Israel takes no actions to pre-judge a final settlement and works to improve the daily lives of the Palestinian people, the possibility of peace is both hopeful and realistic,' she said. The United States has been pressing the Palestinians to crack down on anti-Israeli violence but Ms Rice signalled she also expected gestures from the Jewish state.

Washington's top diplomat also hammered home the message that dismantling the "terror infrastructure" was critical to peace efforts, while warning the Palestinian Authority against allowing the radical Hamas movement to participate in the forthcoming elections. "Dismantling the infrastructure of terrorism is essential to peace because in the final analysis, no democratic government can tolerate armed parties with one foot in the realm of politics and one foot in the camp of terrorism," Ms Rice said.

... Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that with the elections only two months away, the Palestinian leadership was facing a "critical period" which would determine the future of its relationship with Israel. "The coming period is critical for the Palestinian Authority," he warned. "It has to choose if it will take a path of peace and dialogue, or if it will choose a path of extremist terror, which permits the existence of terror organisations and allows their participation in the political system before they lay down their arms." It would not be possible for Israel to accept a situation in which "terror organisations will not give up their weapons and will even gain legitimacy for their existence under the umbrella of a democratic system," he said. January's elections will be the first time Hamas, which has been behind the majority of suicide bombings during the five-year Palestinian uprising, has consented to participate in parliamentary politics.

On Monday, Ms Rice will hold talks with Sharon before attending a state ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the murder of premier Yitzhak Rabin. She is then expected in Ramallah for talks with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas. Talks were expected to focus on the stalled negotiations on reopening the Rafah terminal on the Gaza-Egypt border, officials on both sides said. In what appeared to be an allusion to the stalled Rafah talks, Mr Sharon said he hoped to see "positive agreements" emerging in the coming days.

. . .Washington has put pressure on Israel to conclude an agreement on arrangements at Rafah as quickly as possible in a bid to ignite Palestinian economic life, otherwise in deep malaise.
International special envoy James Wolfensohn, who has been spearheading talks on the dispute, believes "the next 72 hours are critical" to his mission to see the Rafah terminal reopened, a member of his entourage said.

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