Rice: We have told the Israelis repeatedly…

So, the question now is — what’s she gonna do about it?

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said at a press conference in Washington on Friday that “We have told the Israelis repeatedly that the settlement activity is both against U.S. policy and against the Roadmap obligations. And I would note that my understanding is that even the Israelis themselves have taken some decisions that suggest that they understand the seriousness of this issue”.

Sometimes, at the press conference, the questions were more interesting than the answers:

Question: Are you prepared to see any old Palestinian state declared before the end of the Bush term or must it meet certain conditions or requirements of functionality and transparency and so on?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, one reason that the roadmap obligations are so important is that they point toward a Palestinian state that would actually be able to govern, would be able to fight terrorism, would be able to deliver for the Palestinian people. And so, that’s one reason that we believe the implementation of any agreement would be subject to fulfillment of the obligations of the Roadmap. It’s hard to imagine a Palestinian state coming into being and living side by side in peace and security with Israel, unless both sides have met those Roadmap obligations and I think they’re pretty much embedded there. But we’re not just stating that as a principle, we’re actually, with Tony Blair and with the Paris donors conference and with what is being done by General Dayton and by General Jones, we’re actually working actively with the Palestinians to build that capacity.

And so of course, you’re going to want to have a Palestinian state that is capable of governing, that has proper security forces, that is transparent. The good news is that across the board, people admire the leadership of this government and believe that these are transparent people who are not given to wanting to use violence and who are trying to build a modern and democratic state.

One of the most important documents, and if you haven’t read it, I would recommend it to you, is the document that Salam Fayyad presented at the Paris donors conference, which is a comprehensive plan for the establishment of a transparent, democratic, rule of law governed Palestinian state. It is going to take some time for that state to fully achieve all of those goals, but I do believe that the prospect of statehood, the reason that it is important to have a political process that ends in an agreement, is that it’s not going to be possible, I believe, for them to deliver on what they want to deliver on, which is in that document, unless there is a prospect for — a real prospect for a state.

QUESTION: The reason I ask this, only because there is some smart money that holds that basically, the President and the Secretary of State are going to countenance the declaration of some kind of Palestinian state before they leave office just as something they can hang their legacy hat on and if it looks very much like the Palestinian state that we have right now, that’s for their successors to deal with. Can you disabuse us of that?

SECRETARY RICE: Jim, as I’ve said, there are a lot easier ways to build a legacy than to try to solve the Palestinian-Israeli issue.

Yeah …

QUESTION: Yeah, my question is only one part. I just wanted to ask you about President Bush’s upcoming trip. Why did you guys calculate this was the time to go to Israel and the Palestinian territories? And what specifically are you looking for as an outcome of the trip? Do you plan to offer any U.S. proposals possibly to bridge the gaps or is this not the right time for that?

SECRETARY RICE: We have yet to see where the parties are. They’ll meet again on the 23rd of December. I suspect they may meet even again before the President gets there. But this is really to lend support to their efforts, to talk, to see if, through the conversation, we can help them to find perhaps where there are points of convergence that sometimes, parties, when they’re negotiating, don’t see. But I think it’s early to try and set a specific set of tasks for the President when he’s there.

I do believe that his going, in and of itself, will continue to give some momentum to the process. When the President is coming to the region, people tend to want to be moving forward, not standing still, and so that in itself will have, I really do believe, an important effect.

QUESTION: This is (inaudible) from Al Arabiya. Is the — 2008 – a target for your Administration to reach a final settlement in between Israelis and Palestinian or you are just happy of supporting the two parties to get into the process?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, 2008 is a goal of the parties to reach agreement, so it’s our goal too. And we will want to try to help them to get there, but if I look back over the last year, I really do think that the launching of permanent status negotiations was not to be taken for granted. At the beginning of last year, I don’t think that the prospects for actually getting to permanent status negotiations looked very good. Now that they are there, there is a certain momentum; there is a certain premium on succeeding. And I do believe that you will see very serious efforts on the part of these two leaders who have now staked a lot on completing this agreement, to try to do what they can, everything they can to complete it. And we’ll be a part of that process with them”.

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