- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 9, 2008

JENIN, West Bank | Visiting this former militant stronghold, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Saturday highlighted the Palestinian president’s law-and-order campaign, one of few tangible successes in slow-moving U.S.-backed peace efforts.

After acknowledging a year-end deadline for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement will not be met, Miss Rice toured Jenin ahead of Sunday’s meeting in Egypt of international peacemakers who hope to consolidate the modest progress and keep talks alive amid political transitions in the U.S. and Israel.

“Even under difficult circumstances … this is a place of hope, this is place of inspiration and ultimately a place from where the Palestinian state will spring up,” said Miss Rice, who hailed the West Bank tour as a model for Palestinian self-governance.

Six years ago, Jenin endured some of the bloodiest Israeli-Palestinian fighting. Miss Rice, the first U.S. secretary of state to visit, gushed over the town’s return to relative calm since President Mahmoud Abbas’ forces deployed there in the spring.

“That it could be reborn this way is in many ways an affirmation that nothing is impossible,” she told reporters at a news conference with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Mr. Abbas’ security forces have tried to assert control in more areas of the West Bank over the past year, going after criminals, vigilantes and Hamas militants, whose faction seized control of the Gaza Strip last year from Mr. Abbas’ Fatah movement.

Jenin is seen as a test case for that effort, which integrates the restructuring and strengthening of Palestinian institutions and its struggling economy as part of the larger peace process.

Miss Rice and Mr. Fayyad said the state-building elements under way in Jenin could not be separated from political negotiations that focus on the borders of a Palestinian state, control of Jerusalem and its holy sites, as well as the fate of Palestinian refugees.

Miss Rice insists that U.S.-led peace efforts have produced significant results, despite the failure to reach the year-end target. She traveled to Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik after leaving Jenin, and planned to meet with other Middle East mediators on Sunday.

Miss Rice, on her eighth trip to the Middle East since the year-end deadline for peace was set last November, has been a frequent visitor to the West Bank. But she usually only spent time at Mr. Abbas’ walled government compound in Ramallah, near Jerusalem.

At Jenin’s Khalil Suleiman Hospital, she inaugurated a ward renovated with $700,000 in U.S. aid. After a ribbon-cutting ceremony, Miss Rice toured the maternity ward and greeted nurses and patients. Looking into one room, she smiled and said with a laugh: “Brand new babies, nothing better.”

U.S. aid to the Palestinians will total $700 million this year, Mr. Fayyad said. Of that, $14 million will be spent on programs in Jenin, U.S. officials said.

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