By Barak Ravid
Washington is likely to pressure Israel and the Palestinian Authority to
make significant diplomatic progress before U.S. President George W. Bush
visits the region in May, a senior American official predicted.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to return here in about
10 days, her second visit this month. She will urge both parties to fulfill
their obligations under the road map peace plan and advance on final-status
"The president's visit in May is intended to take action and achieve
results, and therefore, the administration is interested in seeing some
progress on the Palestinian issue," the U.S. official said. "Bush does not
intend to act like a lame duck, so something has to happen on the ground by
the time of the president's visit."
The State Department is considering various steps that could be taken to
demonstrate progress. In particular, it would like Israel to start
evacuating illegal settlement outposts, which Bush deems very important. The
U.S. has been disappointed by Israel's inaction and its refrain of "we are
still negotiating with the settlers."
Another option is moving parts of the separation fence from the West Bank to
the Green Line.
Yet another is enacting a law to compensate settlers who leave the West Bank
voluntarily. The American official said that while the U.S. is not
intervening in this matter, it believes such a law would demonstrate
Israel's seriousness about a two-state solution.
"The U.S. does want to force any steps on Israel; rather, it wants Israel to
decide for itself what it can do," he said.
Yesterday, Rice lambasted both Israel and the PA.
"Frankly, not nearly enough has happened to demonstrate that the Israelis
and the Palestinians fully understand ... that without following road map
obligations and without improvements on the ground, it's very hard to
sustain this process," she told reporters en route to Chile. "There is a lot
of room for improvement on both sides."
The senior American official said, "The current Israeli approach to daily
Palestinian life strengthens Hamas in Gaza." The administration is working
to address Israel's security concerns, he added, but Israel must also do its
"You can't eat security, you also need an economy," he said. "For this to
happen, Israel has to enable things to happen."
On Friday, a tripartite committee to monitor implementation of the road map
held its first meeting in Jerusalem. The meeting, chaired by U.S. General
William Fraser, was attended by PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Defense
Ministry official Amos Gilad. The PA slammed Defense Minister Ehud Barak for
sending a subordinate in his place.
Fraser said he would work with both sides on a plan to implement their road
map obligations: for the PA, fighting terror; for Israel, freezing
settlements, evacuating outposts and removing roadblocks. He said fulfilling
these obligations would take a year or two.
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