BERLIN, (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday left open the possibility that Washington could support unilateral steps by Israel to impose final borders with the Palestinians.
Interim Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose Kadima party won elections on Tuesday, has vowed that in the absence of peace talks he plans to set Israel’s frontier by 2010 by removing remote West Bank settlements and strengthening bigger enclaves on occupied land.
Asked whether the United States would support such a unilateral move, Rice said Washington had backed Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza last year, which was initially unilateral but ultimately coordinated with the Palestinians.
“So I would not on the face of it say … that we do not think there is any value in what the Israelis are talking about. But we can’t support it because we don’t know. We haven’t had a chance to talk to them about what they have in mind,” Rice told reporters travelling with her to Berlin.
“Of course everyone would like to see a negotiated solution, that is what the road map is about,” she added.
Palestinians say Olmert’s plan will deny them a viable state and annex land Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East war. Olmert says it would be a last resort in the absence of progress on a stalled, U.S.-backed peace “road map”, especially since the militant group Hamas won Palestinian elections in January.
Neither Israelis nor Palestinians have met obligations under the road map, which calls on Palestinians to start disarming militants and Israel to freeze all settlement construction as part of mutual steps leading to the creation of a Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel.
A policy of unilateralism could spell the end of the road map. But with a Hamas-led government now in place, negotiations seem a long way off to resolve the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Rice said it was hard to imagine negotiations with Hamas, responsible for dozens of suicide bombings in Israel, unless it recognized the Jewish state’s right to exist, renounced violence and accepted previous agreements between both sides.
“If you are going to have a negotiation you have to have partners and the Palestinian government does not accept the concept of a negotiated solution,” she said.
The United States classifies Hamas as a terrorist body and legally cannot give any aid to a new Palestinian government run by the group or have any contact with its members.
Immediately after Hamas’s shock victory in January, the State Department announced a review of all aid to the Palestinians to ensure no U.S. funds reached Hamas. Rice said this review was nearly complete.
Rice reiterated the United States would see what it could do to increase humanitarian aid without supporting Hamas.
“We are trying to be as generous as possible to the Palestinian people because we know they have severe humanitarian needs,” she said. “We have said from the first day that we are not going to cut off food assistance, refugee assistance or medical assistance.”
Washington has cut off all contact with Hamas, but Rice stressed the United States would stay in touch with President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah Party lost to Hamas.
“I think that he is still someone who stands for the aspirations of the Palestinian people and a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict,” said Rice.