Secretary Rice met, on February 6th, after her visit first with Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, newly elected President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian people. For the first time since the early 1990s, there is the possibility and hope for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Everything has meaning in diplomacy, and Sec. Rice's visit and President Abbas' comments are no exception:
President Abbas: "I would like to tell her, you are in the right place."
President Abbas is signaling to the Bush Administration that he would like the US to be more engaged in the process and to invest personal and political capital to bring about a Palestinian state sooner than later. I think it also signals that President Abbas believes he can be the partner that Arafat proved, tragically for his countrymen, not to be with the Americans. He continues:
"I would also like to take this opportunity to ask for the continuation of assistance in issues related to the issue of settlements, the wall, as well as those issues related to Jerusalem. We thank the American administration for its involvement in the issue of the Absentee Property Law. For our part, we have said and still say, and have worked and still work toward fulfilling our obligations concerning the Road Map, and we hope that the Israeli side will likewise fulfill its obligation, because this is the only way to realize President Bush’s two-state vision of establishing an independent, viable and contiguous Palestinian state next to the State of Israel, as well as peace and tranquility. Also, we have started the reform process, including financial, economic, legal and other reforms, and we are continuing on this path in order to lay a steady foundation for building the Palestinian state."
I love that President Abbas opened with this thought. He opens with what he wants of Israel, their issues with respect to: 1) Israeli settlements 2) the security wall and 3) the partition of Jerusalem. These are all important and complex issues. But look where he goes next. He spends more time talking about where he has moved his government and where he wants to lead it. He speaks of the Road Map with a desire to meet, from a Palestinian perspective, his obligations in order to receive a state in return for his people. He speaks of a Palestinian state and Israel at a state of "peace and tranquility". Can you imagine Arafat making this claim in sincerity or even at all?
Secretary Rice responded the following day at a press conference, saying of both sides:
"We are very encouraged by the initial steps that the Palestinian leadership has taken on security, toward the restoration of law and order, and in establishing the basis for a cease-fire. We have also been assured by President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority’s intention to bring justice to those who murdered three American personnel in the Gaza in 2003. We are encouraged, too, by the Israeli reaction to the Palestinian steps on security. Working together, the parties have created a very positive atmosphere for tomorrow’s important summit."
There are many other very important elements in the Q & A session between the two that are worth exploring further, including Hamas winning local elections, Egypt, negotiating a cease-fire, the US pledge of $40 million extra in assistance and an American General (Lt. Gen. William Ward) as special envoy to the Palestinians.
I am glad to see Secretary Rice directly involved, and I think the trip will produce a new opportunity for peace, affirmation of democratic ideals, and a reminder of US leadership in the Middle East.