Ashraf Khalil
The Los Angeles Times
October 16, 2007 - 12:39pm,1,7326550.story?...

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday expressed hope that a successfully negotiated vision of a Palestinian state would marginalize the militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.

"There will have to come a time when the Palestinian people will have to decide whether the prospect of that state is in their interest, and I think they will decide that it is," Rice said after meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. "But people are going to have to accept that it means accepting the existence of Israel and the right of Israel to exist."

Rice met with Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah as part of several days of meetings building toward a proposed peace conference next month in Annapolis, Md.

She repeatedly called for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. But Rice made it clear that Hamas, the Islamist movement that won Palestinian parliamentary elections last year and calls for Israel's destruction, would have no role in the upcoming negotiations.

"We've been very clear what the criteria are for involvement in this process," she said. "If you're going to have a two-state solution, you have to accept the right of the other party to exist. If you're going to have a two-state solution that is born of negotiation, you're going to have to renounce violence."

Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in June, ending a unity government with the Palestinian president's Fatah faction. Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, then fired Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas and has since been treated by Israel and the West as the sole legitimate Palestinian leader.

"Abu Mazen is the chairman of the PLO. That is the legitimate negotiating authority for the Palestinian people," Rice said, referring to his Palestine Liberation Organization. "You work with the legitimate authority and the legitimate institutions of the Palestinian people to try to move them toward progress on statehood."

Much of the current debate between Israelis and Palestinians surrounds the pre-conference joint declaration being worked out by their negotiating teams. Chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Korei told the Arabic daily Al Ayyam that the Palestinians wanted to enter the conference with a joint document that included at least one paragraph on each of the core issues: final borders, the status of Jerusalem, the right of return for Palestinian refugees and the future of Israeli settlements.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has expressed a desire for a much vaguer joint declaration and a conference that serves as the starting point for a process with no set timeline.

Rice, after returning to Jerusalem on Monday, seemed to side with the Israeli position.

"I'm not certain that a timetable that says 'We have to complete X by Y time' is where we want to go," she said. "There will be some things about which [the Israelis] won't be ready to enter into more details and that's just fine. . . . If they get to formal negotiations, there's going to be plenty of details."

In other news, Israel on Monday completed an exchange with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Israel turned over one Hezbollah prisoner and the bodies of two dead militiamen in return for the body of an Israeli man who apparently drowned off the Lebanese coast in 2005.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017