- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2008

TEL AVIV — Shuttling between Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Easter in an effort to reinvigorate limping peace negotiations, Vice President Dick Cheney said that reaching an agreement would require “tremendous effort” and “painful concessions” from both sides.

Following talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, a Palestinian official said Mr. Cheney’s main message to the Palestinians was to reiterate Presidents Bush’s commitment to reaching a deal this year.

Mr. Abbas appealed to Mr. Cheney to urge Israel to agree to a cessation of hostilities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and halt the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem.

Momentum in the first serious peace talks in seven years has been sapped by an upsurge of fighting across the Israel-Gaza Strip border.

The vice president’s visit here is part of a 10-day trip through the region that has taken him from Iraq and Afghanistan to Saudi Arabia.

Cheney prodded Israelis and Palestinians yesterday. He said that rockets from Gaza not only kill civilians, they also kill “the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people.”

He called continued Israeli settlement activity an impediment to security and peace.

Mr. Cheney’s two-day stopover occurred as representatives of Hamas and Mr. Abbas’ Fatah party in Yemen fell short of reconciling a nine-month standoff following the Islamic militants’ violent takeover of the Gaza Strip last June.

Procedural squabbles over a Yemeni compromise delayed an agreement after five days of talks — the first direct meeting between the two rivals since the takeover.

Fatah representatives said they have accepted the Yemeni initiative, but Hamas will only agree to it as a “framework” for talks. The plan calls for the sides to return to the status quo prior to Hamas’ takeover.

Mr. Cheney is the latest in a string of prominent international politicians to visit Israel and declare their staunch support for the Jewish state.

The visit took place just days after the presumptive Republican nominee for president, Sen. John McCain, visited Israel. Mr. McCain’s stopover occurred at the same time that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was in Israel to address the Israeli parliament.

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