- The Washington Times - Monday, January 15, 2007

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pledged yesterday that the Bush administration will do more in its final two years to try to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I have heard loud and clear the call for deeper American engagement in these processes,” she said at a press conference with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at his Ramallah headquarters. “You will have my commitment to do precisely that.”

A senior State Department official traveling with Miss Rice told reporters that there has been “a lot of doubt about the sincerity” of the U.S. commitment to the peace process in the region but that people are finally “coming out of it.”

The peace process immediately became more complicated, however, with Mr. Abbas rejecting a key element of the U.S.-backed “road map” plan. The Palestinian leader, backed by the United States in his struggle with the militant Hamas movement, said he will not agree to a provisional Palestinian state with temporary borders, the second stage of the long-dormant plan.

Miss Rice, who has rejected complaints that the administration’s involvement was not sufficient, said the three-stage road map is the only viable and internationally backed plan that would result in the establishment of a Palestinian state.

But Mr. Abbas said Israeli proposals to move quickly to the second stage of the plan would serve only to delay the final outcome.

“We reaffirmed to Secretary Rice our rejection of any temporary or transitional solutions, including a state with temporary borders, because we don’t see it as a realistic option,” he said.

In the past few months, Miss Rice has questioned the view of many in the region, as well as of the Iraq Study Group, that problems in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere in the region would be eased if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were resolved.

Instead, she has argued that the core issue is a struggle between extremists and moderates in the Middle East.

She said yesterday that a Palestinian state “should be pursued on its own merits — not because of anything else,” such as the situation in Iraq or Iran. “The Palestinian people have waited a long time for their own state,” she added.

Mr. Abbas promised that the $86 million the Bush administration plans to give him to boost his security forces, if approved by Congress, will not be “misused” but spent only on training and equipment and not on weapons or salaries.

Hamas, which controls the Palestinian Cabinet, has said that the U.S. grant would inflame tensions between it and Mr. Abbas’ Fatah faction and could lead to a civil war.

Mr. Abbas said his government still needs weapons from other sources, “and we ask that the security forces be provided with these weapons so that it will be compensated for the losses” caused by Israel in the final years of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s rule.

“We do not let weapons enter unless it is in a lawful manner,” he said. “We deal in total transparency with this issue.”

The senior State Department official said one of the goals of the U.S. program is to professionalize and downsize the Palestinian security forces, which have about four times as many personnel on the payroll than actually go to work.

The official said the U.S. money would be used for purposes ranging from “personal kits to communications to expendables.” He declined to say where weapons would come from, because that is an “extremely sensitive issue for Palestinian public opinion.”

Mr. Abbas repeated his intention to call new elections for president and parliament if weeks-long talks with Hamas on a unity government produce no result. An aide to Mr. Abbas suggested that he would give the negotiations a couple more weeks.

Miss Rice is scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert today before flying to Egypt for talks with President Hosni Mubarak and then to Saudi Arabia, where she will have dinner with King Abdullah.

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