Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Industry, Trade and Labor
Minister Eli Yishai on Sunday told visiting US Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice that Jerusalem was "not on the negotiations
table," local top-selling daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported on
In a handout picture
released by the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, US Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice smiles as arrives at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion
International Airport. Rice began her latest Middle East tour
warning that she did not expect a major peace breakthrough ahead of
a US-sponsored meeting next month.
Yishai's remarks came just ahead of a US-sponsored international
peace conference slated for next month, which the Palestinian side
expects will deal with those thorniest issues regarding the lasting
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including control over Jerusalem.
"We have a Palestinian Authority with two heads. It is
impossible to sign an agreement with only 60 percent of the
Palestinian people. We need a real reinforcement, rather than a
virtual one. Only an economic conference can bolster Abu Mazen
(Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas)," said Yishai.
Yishai was referring to the political division of the
Palestinians. Since mid-June when Hamas seized control of the Gaza
Strip, the geographically-divided Palestinian territories has been
politically split into two parts -- with Hamas controlling Gaza and
Abbas' Fatah movement holding the West Bank.
"I am a man of peace and I long for peace," Yishai claimed,
adding that Israel has been waiting for real negotiations for a
very long time and it can wait longer.
Control over the holy city of Jerusalem has been a very
sensitive and thorny issue for the decades-long conflict. The city
is of special importance to both the Arabs and the Israeli as it
comprises major religious sites.
The Palestinians, with support from Arab states, are seeking to
set up a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But
the Jewish state says the city is the eternal capital of
In response to Yishai's remarks, Rice argued that only
discussions on core issues could bolster the Israeli-Palestinian
"I am convinced that the Palestinians need an independent
country. The Annapolis peace conference will discuss the core
issues, but the negotiations will be held in a direct manner." Rice
Earlier in the day, Rice also held talks with Israeli Defense
Minister Ehud Barak.
Barak told Rice that Israel would dismantle one permanent
roadblock on the road connecting Bethlehem and Hebron in the West
Bank as a gesture of goodwill toward the Palestinians.
Barak added that the Palestinian Authority has yet completed the
daily deployment of 500 Palestinian police officers in the West
Bank city of Nablus during daytime hours, a move which Rice
approved during her last visit to the region in mid-September.
On September 23, Israel authorized the deployment of 500
Palestinian police reinforcements to the restive town Nablus, where
Israel recently carried out a major military incursion.
Barak reiterated that Israel's freedom to implement security
measures within the West Bank is a basic principle which must be
upheld in the future.
Rice arrived in Israel on Sunday morning, as part of her
four-day visit in the Middle East, in a bid to prepare the ground
for the US-proposed Middle East peace conference to be held next
month in Annapolis, Maryland.
She downplayed the likelihood of an immediate breakthrough on a
document that would outline details of a future peace deal between
the two sides.
"I don't expect ... that there will be any particular outcome in
the sense of breakthroughs on the document," she was quoted local
popular daily Ha'aretz as saying to reporters during her flight to
Tel Aviv from Moscow.
"I would just warn in advance not to expect that, because this
is really a work in progress." she added.
On July 16, US President George W. Bush proposed to hold an
international peace conference this fall, which would include
Israel, the Palestinians, and some neighboring Arab states, to help
resume the stalled Middle East peace talks.
(Xinhua News Agency October 15, 2007)