- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 6, 2005

JERUSALEM — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday delivered “personal commitments” from President Bush to promote the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and said the United States will allow moderate Arab states to lead the mediation effort.

“I most especially want to bring the personal commitment of President Bush and my own personal commitment to this process, because this is a time of opportunity, and it is a time that we must seize,” she said before a meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.

“We will ask of our partners and our friends here in Israel that Israel continue to take the hard decisions that must be taken in order to promote peace and to help the emergence of a democratic Palestinian state,” she said. “And we will ask the parties in the region to be supportive of these elements.”

Miss Rice will be in Paris tomorrow when regional officials convene in Egypt for a highly anticipated summit, where a leading Palestinian negotiator said yesterday his side will “declare a cessation of violence against Israelis anywhere.”

Cabinet Secretary Saeb Erekat, speaking on CNN’s “Late Edition” yesterday, also said the Palestinians hope to hear from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon “that Israel will stop violence against Palestinians anywhere.”

“This is the start, and we take it from there,” he said.

Miss Rice, on a 10-day tour of Europe and the Middle East, met with Mr. Sharon in Jerusalem yesterday and is scheduled to visit the West Bank today for talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The secretary praised the willingness of Egypt and Jordan to take center stage in mediation efforts, beginning with tomorrow’s summit between Mr. Sharon and Mr. Abbas in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik.

“The United States wants very much for this to be a process that is the parties’ process, that is owned by the parties, that’s owned by the regional states. That’s why what Egypt is doing is a very, very welcome development,” she told reporters aboard her plane on Saturday.

Washington “will continue to set the context, to be there to help, to provide whatever assistance we can, but if the parties are able to continue to move on their own, that’s the very best outcome that one could possibly have.”

Israeli officials, who also seemed eager for the United States to remain in the background for now, said Mr. Abbas needs as much legitimacy from Arab leaders as he can receive if he is to crack down on militant groups and implement security and economic reforms.

“It’s very important that moderate Arab countries like Egypt and Jordan actively support the new Palestinian leadership and its policy to end violence and terrorism,” said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev.

“Abbas has to know that he has support from leading elements in the Arab world to take on Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other extremist organizations.”

The 124-member leadership of Mr. Abbas’ Fatah movement moved toward an end to violence during a two-day meeting in the Gaza Strip. The Fatah Revolutionary Council said yesterday its militias would halt attacks on civilians inside Israel and be ready for “a mutual cease-fire” in the occupied territories.

In her remarks yesterday, Miss Rice stressed the importance of an orderly Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank, which is planned for the summer.

The secretary, who had dinner with Mr. Sharon after their afternoon meeting, said it is “extremely important” that the Israelis and Palestinians “have coordinating meetings and mechanisms for the Israeli withdrawal.”

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Miss Rice had “outlined for [Mr. Sharon] a possible security mechanism to help the Palestinians build effective security forces that fight terrorism and help Palestinians and Israelis in cooperating to end the violence.” He offered no details.

The secretary’s remarks reflected renewed hopes in the region for a breakthrough in the long-running attempt to hold meaningful peace negotiations. “This is a hopeful time, but it is a time also of great responsibility for all of us to make certain that we act on the words that we speak,” she said.

Speaking earlier on CNN, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger expressed a similar note of optimism on CNN. “This is the best opportunity that I have seen in maybe decades to make a significant breakthrough and maybe even move into final-status negotiations,” he said.

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