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Palestinians eye new chapter in ties with US with Rice visit (AFP-FRANCE PRESSE) RAMALLAH, West Bank 02/03/05 8:55 AM ET)Source: http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=1515&ncid=1515&e=7&u=/afp/20050203/wl_mideast_afp/mideastpalestinianus_050203135505 AFP} Agence France Presse AFP} Agence France Presse Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AFP) - Palestinians are looking to the visit by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as a chance to open a new era in relations with Washington after being largely cold-shouldered during the first Bush administration.

As Rice embarked on her first overseas visit since taking office, President George W. Bush declared in his annual State of the Union address that the goal of an independent Palestinian state was now in sight and pledged 350 million dollars towards the implementation of reforms within the Palestinian Authority.

While Yasser Arafat headed the Palestinian Authority, Bush not only sat on his wallet but refused to meet the veteran leader who was the most frequent visitor to the White House during the Clinton presidency.

Bush was quick to declare Arafat´s death on November 11 as an opportunity to kickstart the peace process and invited his successor Mahmud Abbas for talks within hours of his election victory on January 9.

Rice is expected to meet Abbas in the West Bank on Monday after talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem.

In a press conference last week, Bush paid tribute to Abbas over the former prime minister´s efforts to put an end to four years of violence in the region after he ordered the deployment of thousands of Palestinian security forces in the Gaza Strip with orders to prevent attacks on Israeli targets.

"I think you´ve seen something new that will help accelerate the (peace) process, and that is Abu Mazen (Abbas), who has been elected by the Palestinians, who´s showed strong leadership," said the US president.

"He has declared that they will do everything they can to protect innocent life from terrorists, as well as consolidating security forces."

Rice has also saluted Abbas for "showing the will to act quickly" against militants since taking office.

Nabil Amr, a former information minister who is close to Abbas, expressed appreciation at the more positive noises coming out of Washington but said the the Palestinians are looking for them to be translated into pressure on Israel.

"The statements by Dr Rice and President Bush are very positive," he said.

"Now that the Palestinian Authority has stopped the violence, we expect them (the United States) to make a big effort to encourage the Israelis to go back to the peace process and implement the roadmap."

Bush first met Abbas at the launch of the roadmap peace plan at the Jordanian coastal town of Aqaba back in June 2003.

But the project, which targets the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel, has made next no progress since then.

Hisham Ahmed, a political science professor at Birzeit University in the central West Bank, agreed with Amr that it was now time for the Americans to bring their influence to bear on the Israelis but said many Palestinians had become deeply sceptical about Washington´s neutrality in the peace process.

"The Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian society at large expect that the Bush administration, after witnessing that all Palestinians are willing to calm down the situation, will exert concrete pressure on Israel to lead to an end of the occupation for once and for all," he said.

"At the same time, Palestinians over the years have become distrustful of the unmeasured US backing of the Israeli occupation.

Rice had a golden opportunity to begin revitalizing Palestinian trust in US policies towards the Middle East," he said.

"Whether she will do it or not is indeed an open-ended question." (Copyright © 2005 Agence France Presse. 02/03/05)


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