RAMALLAH, West Bank — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday pushed Israel and the Palestinians to discuss all issues leading to a Palestinian state, as she sought backing for a international peace conference later this year.
Speaking alongside Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in her first visit since Hamas‘ takeover of the Gaza Strip, she said that even though the details of a regional meeting were not finalized, there was agreement that it should mark a concrete step toward peace.
She added that there is a need for “a deepening of the dialogue between the Palestinians and the Israelis on all of the issues that will lead ultimately to the founding of a Palestinian state.”
Her remarks came a day after Saudi Arabia expressed interest in attending the Middle East peace conference first called for by President Bush last month.
However, the Saudis, whose participation in open talks with Israel would be unprecedented, also demand that the conference deal with “substantive matters of peace.”
Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper reported that an Israeli Cabinet minister close to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and other officials support talks on a set of principles for reaching final agreement on the thorny issues of borders, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees who left the infant state of Israel during the 1948 war.
Mr. Bush last month proposed an international conference in an effort to jump-start moribund talks, and as a way to bring together Israel and moderate Arab regimes.
“The most important thing is we produce results and we know what the endgame is — then we can reach agreement on the stages of implementation,” Mr. Abbas said.
Israel Radio reported that the conference is expected to be held in Washington in November.
The conference plan evokes comparisons to the 1991 peace parley in Madrid, which was convened by Mr. Bush’s father, and marked the first time Israel sat alongside Palestinian representatives.