US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Thursday wrapped up her
about 24-hour trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories,
ending the mission, as what she had put, to take advantage of
"mutual opportunities" to advance the two-state solution.
Despite the much fanfare and the newly-coined phrase, some
former diplomats and analysts in Israel were basically doubtful
over the prospect of any significant progress in the Middle East
Urging peace talks to seize "mutual
Earlier on Thursday, Rice traveled to Ramallah and met with
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the entire Palestinian
caretaker cabinet, led by the US-backed prime minister Salam
It was the first time for Rice to visit the West Bank since
Islamic Hamas movement seized control of the Gaza Strip and
captured pro-Abbas security headquarters last month.
At a press conference with Abbas, Rice called for more and
deepening dialogues between the Palestinians and Israel "on all of
the issues that will lead ultimately to the founding of a
She also told Abbas that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was
"ready to discuss the fundamental issues that will lead to
negotiations soon," referring to the thorniest issues of the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the status of Jerusalem and
the Palestinian borders.
Earlier on Wednesday, Rice had said her visit to Israel and the
Palestinian territories were aimed to "take advantage of mutual
opportunities to advance the two-state solution."
"This is a time to seize opportunities and it is a time to
proceed in a prepared and careful way, as one does not want to miss
opportunities ... we have to take advantage of what is before us,"
Rice told reporters after a meeting with her Israeli counterpart
Livni echoed her appeal by saying that Israel would not miss the
opportunity to continue negotiations with the Palestinians.
In response to Rice's efforts, both Israel and the Palestinians
had made positive gestures by announcing that they would consider
first working on "principles" as the initial move toward a final
These "principles" would outline the contours of a future
Palestinian state, without immediately tackling those thorniest
Rice, who arrived in Israel on Wednesday noon, had previously
visited Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Her four-day regional tour was
aimed partly to rally support for an American proposal to hold an
international peace conference to push ahead with the Middle East
On July 16, US President George W. Bush proposed to hold an
international conference later this year that will group Israel,
the Palestinians and some neighboring Arab states to help resume
the stalled Middle East peace talks.
To US relief, Rice had largely persuaded Saudi Arabia, a
heavyweight in the Arab world without diplomatic ties with Israel,
to participate in the proposed peace conference.
"When we get an invitation from (Rice) to attend ... we will
study it and we will be keen to attend," Saudi Foreign Minister
Saud al-Faisal said after Wednesday's meetings with Rice and US
Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Riyadh.
Skepticism lingering among Israeli experts, former
Despite the latest US efforts in pushing forward with the
Mideast peace process, including the rare US duo visit, Israeli
foreign policy experts maintained basically skeptical.
They said that formidable challenges remained in the way to
solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the current US
administration would have a limited impact on the Middle East peace
"The critical question is whether Israel and the Palestinian
(National) Authority are in a position to have meaningful
negotiations on issues of permanent status," former Israeli
ambassador to the UN Dore Gold told the Jerusalem Post.
"The hardest problem that the US will face is the weakness of
Abbas in the West Bank, an issue that probably cannot be
ameliorated by money and guns alone," Gold said.
He believed that a significant amount of time needed to be spent
on building institutions and civil society among the Palestinians
before the West could burden them with negotiations.
Alon Liel, former director-general of the Israeli Foreign
Ministry and foreign affairs adviser to former prime minister Ehud
Barak, is also skeptical about the prospects for any progress in
the Middle East peace process.
Liel's critique related to the US and Israeli attitudes to the
changing Palestinian polity, and the determination to focus on
Abbas while trying to maintain the boycott of Hamas.
"By doing so, and declaring half of the Palestinians good guys
and half of them bad guys, they are destroying the people. You
can't build a country for only half the people," Liel said.
Since mid-June when Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip after
defeating Abbas' Fatah militants, the geographically-divided
Palestinian territories have been politically split into two
parts-- with Hamas controlling Gaza and Fatah holding the West
"At this point, I don't think we can move forward on the
political level," he said.
The only thing that could be accomplished right now "might be
improving the (Palestinians') humanitarian and economic situation.
But for this we don't need an international conference," Liel
(Xinhua News Agency August 3, 2007)