Anne Gearan
The Associated Press
February 12, 2008 - 7:15pm

The U.S.-backed Palestinian prime minister said Monday that time is running short to demonstrate progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks President Bush launched to fanfare last fall.

"Unless there is tangible progress in the period immediately ahead" on a list of pledges made by Israel, "I think, honestly, it would require that we begin to really call this for what it is," Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said.

Fayyad did not write off the peace effort, but said there is good reason for skepticism.

"We just cannot continue to proceed as if things are going or proceeding in line with expectations, because so far they have not, to tell you the truth."

Fayyad was in Washington for meetings with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and others, as he courts world bankers, investors and leaders to help renovate the Palestinian economy.

Meanwhile, the State Department said Rice will go to the Mideast in early March. Peace talks have shown little measurable progress since Bush inaugurated the first bargaining in seven years at an international conference in Annapolis, Md.

Rice is expected to prod Israel and the Palestinians to bear down. Bush has said he wants to frame a deal this year, but Israeli and Palestinian politicians are beginning to air public doubts that the goal is realistic.

"Annapolis took place in November. We are now in February 2008," Fayyad said in answering questions at the National Press Club. "We need to begin to see progress, most certainly, in the hope that we are going to be able to reach agreement in 2008, and I hope that will be possible."

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who heads Israel's negotiating team, warned Sunday that it would be impossible to reach an agreement as long as Hamas militants control the Gaza Strip, one of the territories Palestinians plan to use for an eventual independent state.

"There is no hope for any kind of peace or the vision of the Palestinian state which includes the Gaza Strip without real change on the ground," Livni told The Associated Press.

Fayyad lamented what he called a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and blamed Israel as well as Hamas.

Hamas overran Gaza in June, expelling forces loyal to moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. While Hamas controls Gaza, Abbas rules the West Bank. Hamas has done nothing to stop militants from using the tiny, densely populated territory to launch rocket attacks into Israel, and Israel responded with a near-total security seal that prevented Gazans from leaving and crippled cross-border commerce.

"You cannot leave 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza without much to lose. I think that's really a huge mistake," Fayyad said. He called Israel's response "collective punishment," the term for illegal targeting of civilians for military advantage.

Besides launching dozens of crude rockets into southern Israel, Hamas has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings over the past decade. Last week, the group claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in a southern Israeli town that killed a 73-year-old woman. It was the first such attack in Israel in more than a year.

Pressure has been building on Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to take even tougher action after an 8-year-old Israeli boy from the southern town of Sderot lost a leg in a Palestinian rocket attack on Saturday.

Several top officials have called on Olmert to begin assassinating the leaders of Hamas, and Sderot residents have held a series of public demonstrations.

Olmert has ruled out a large-scale invasion of Gaza for the time being.


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