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RICE‘S MISSION - GET SHARON AND ABBAS ON THE SAME PAGE

Rice & Abbas

Condolleezza Rice has come and gone - putting the U.S. finishing touches on what will likely be a successful Sharon-Abbas summit. However the Secretary of State will not be attending the Sharm El Sheik summit with Egypt’s President Mubarak and Jordan’s King Abdullah; there is no need at this stage. But later on, the presence and prestige of the U.S. Secretary of State will surely be required to overcome the crises which can be expected to crop up, if and when the Roadmap gets underway in earnest.

Secretary Rice has shown the American flag stressing that President Bush is serious about promoting his vision of Palestine and Israel living at peace. The Rice message was that it’s doable, but it’s up to Israel, the Palestinians and regional players such as Egypt and Jordan to play their parts. But in order to reach negotiations on the Roadmap’s two state solution, the groundwork must be carefully prepared and adhered to. This was Condolezza Rice’s mission; to get Sharon and Abbas at least ‘on the same page’ about how to move on; this is essential because without restoring credibility the current momentum will soon peter out amid dashed expectations.

The Issues - Terrorism: Rice made clear that terrorism is unacceptable, period. On this score, the new Palestinian leader was headed in the right direction.

Gen. Ward

Therefore, the U.S. is sending a three-star General William Ward to whip the Palestinian security forces into shape and monitor Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation. In other words, General Ward will be acting chief-umpire 'calling them as he sees them’. But if Abbas opposes terrorism as counter-productive to the Palestinian cause, how does this get translated on the ground? President Abbas declared that he has persuaded the terror groups to accept a cease-fire with Israel.

Palestinian Prisoners ‘with blood on their hands’: In a good-will gesture, Israel has agreed to release some 900 terrorists, but none who actually participated in blowing up Israeli kids in buses etc. The Palestinians say it’s not enough; all the prisoners should be set free because ‘they’re our freedom fighters’. A joint Israeli-Palestinian committee will discuss the question after the summit. Then the question for Israel will likely be, will the release of Palestinians ‘with blood on their hands’ add or detract from the risk that more or less Israeli blood will be spilled in the future.

No Unilateral Israeli Steps: If Rice laid it on the line about Palestinian terrorism, she also upbraided Prime Minister Sharon about confiscating Palestinian property in east Jerusalem. The U.S. Secretary of State will be out to establish her bona fide mediator credential as the process develops.

Economic Aid: There is general acceptance for the need to improve the standard of living for the Palestinians, which has deteriorated drastically since they started the violence in September 2000. Cabinet minister Shimon Peres told Rice that economic stability is no less important than political stability and it will obviously boost support for Mahmoud Abbas. President Bush has also invited Sharon and Abbas to visit the White House and the U.S. is expediting $ 40 million of its multi-million-dollar aid package.

Egypt-Jordan: Not only is Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak finally dropping his boycott of Ariel Sharon, Cairo and Jordan’s King Abdullah are firmly on board the current peace move. Egypt’s participation will hopefully result in an Egyptian crackdown on any attempts to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip from Sinai. Again, the strong Arab support will bolster the status of Abbas on the ‘Palestinian street’.

Disengagement Referendum: Secretary Rice says this is an internal Israeli issue, but she cautions that it should not delay the withdrawal, which the U.S. now views as part of the Roadmap process.

Sharm El Sheik

Sharm el Sheik summit: If Secretary of State Rice has succeeded in getting Sharon and Abbas on the same page at this point, their summit may open a new chapter - the end of the intifada of bloodshed and violence. But Hizballah, Iran and Syria are going all out to incite terror groups to carry out fresh attacks. Israeli security forces are on high alert and with good reason. Hizballah, bankrolled by Tehran, is reportedly upping the ante for terror attacks. The going rate is $ 20,000 for organizing a suicide bombing, which kills Israelis and $10,000 for a Qassam rocket attack, which inflicts Israeli casualties.

David Essing

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