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Senior government officials lukewarm on Rice Mideast trip (HA´ARETZ NEWS) By Aluf Benn and Amos Harel 02/02/05)Source: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/534923.html HA'ARETZ} NEWS SERVICE HA'ARETZ} NEWS SERVICE Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Senior government officials in Israel are feeling less than enthusiastic about the upcoming visit to Israel by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, fearing that the American involvement might "raise the price" the Palestinians will demand of Israel.

Rice is due here next week for meetings with the Israeli and Palestinian leadership, and to highlight the stepped-up American involvement in the political process.

According to government officials, Israel would prefer to deal directly with the Palestinians and not through intermediaries.

"Whenever a high-ranking foreigner, particularly an American, shows up here, it can change the dynamic of the negotiations," said a source. "The minute the Palestinians start sounding logical in their conversations with us, they hurry to the Americans to start pressuring us."

But the source said that "Rice knows this and won´t let it happen."

The source said that Rice decided to move up her planned trip to the region and visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority on her way to Europe to show the Europeans that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is high on the American agenda. The source also said that she needs the visit to shore up her own position as the new top U.S. diplomat.

During her last visit here in June 2003 as National Security Advisor, Rice heard bitter criticism of the security fence from the Palestinians. She was persuaded and presented that position forcefully to Israel.

Rice met on Monday with Dov Weisglass, senior advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, along with ambassador Danny Ayalon, political adviser to Sharon Shalom Turgeman, and Sharon´s military secretary, Yoav Galant. The meeting was devoted to developments on the Palestinian front in the wake of Mahmoud Abbas´ election to head the PA.

Weisglass told her about the goodwill gestures Israel is planning to give Abbas, starting with the transfer of five West Bank cities to Palestinian security control. He reiterated the "quiet for quiet" policy enunciated by Sharon, and according to Israeli sources, Rice praised the steps Israel has taken in the last few weeks in response to Abbas´ moves.

The secretary of state said it was important to isolate the extremists on the Palestinian side, like Hamas, and spoke about the threat posed by Hezbollah, Syria and Iran to the rest of the process. Rice promised that she would be raising the demand for the Europeans to add Hezbollah to the list of terror organizations as defined by the EU.

The defense establishment is putting finishing details on its planned goodwill gestures to the Palestinians, and Sharon is due to convene the political cabinet tomorrow to approve the moves that will be presented to Abbas at the summit with him next Tuesday.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, meanwhile, reiterated that Israel won´t be able to move forward in the security coordination process unless the Palestinians make proactive moves to stop the mortar fire in Gaza. Defense sources were saying yesterday that the steep decline in terror activity in recent weeks was the direct result of deals struck by Abbas and not the result of Palestinian policing. (© Copyright 2005 Haaretz. 02/02/05)

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