JERUSALEM (AFP) -US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will push her big power counterparts in Berlin to provide more support for her latest bid to salvage the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Rice will meet the top diplomats of the European Union, Russia and the United Nations — the so-called Middle East quartet — two days after brokering a rare encounter between Palestinian and Israeli leaders in a bid to revive their moribund peace negotiations.
The Monday summit between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas yielded few concrete results and was overshadowed by a power-sharing deal reached earlier this month between Abbas’ Fatah party and the radical Islamic group Hamas.
But it did end with a pledge by the two leaders to pursue their talks, including about issues related to the creation of a Palestinian state — a topic not broached since an eruption of violent Palestinian protests in 2001.
Rice said the Quartet could play a greater role in strengthening Abbas in a tense power struggle with Hamas.
“This is going to have to be an international team effort, to support the emergence of a Palestinian state,” she told repoorters after her meetings in Jerusalem.
“I also want the Quartet to play a political role,” she said, suggesting the grouping could facilate implementation of agreements to ease Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement and access to their territories.
“I plan to sit and strategise with them about how we do that,” she said.
Rice and Olmert used much of Monday’s meeting to press Abbas about the unity government being formed with Hamas, blacklisted as a terrorist group by Israel and the US and the target of a crippling aid boycott by the Quartet, officials said.
The boycott was imposed a year ago after Hamas won legislative elections that gave them control of the Palestinian government and refused to meet Quartet conditions for recognition — renounce violence, recognise Israel and comply with past Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements.
Abbas argued Monday that the power-sharing deal, reached earlier this month in a bid to halt deadly clashes between Hamas and Fatah supporters, includes implicit recognition of the conditions by requiring the new government to honor existing “international agreements”.
It also formally authorises Abbas to negotiate with Israel.
Rice and Olmert held firm to their demand for explicit recognition of the Quartet principles by the new government, expected to be formed and announce its program in three to five weeks.
“Any Palestinian Authority government must be committed to non-violence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations,” said a statement read out by Rice after the meeting.
The Quartet ministers reaffirmed their conditions for lifting the aid boycott at a meeting in Washington just days after the Fatah-Hamas unity deal was announced.
But Russia has been highly critical of the embargo, and there is growing unease in Europe over the economic hardship caused by the measures, which have cut salaries to tens of thousands of public servants.
Last September, the World Bank warned 2006 looked set to be the worst year in Palestinian economic history, with average personal income falling 40 percent and 67 percent of the population slipping into poverty.
If the situation persists, by 2008, unemployment will reach 47 percent, compared with 23 percent in 2005, and 74 percent of people will fall into poverty, compared with 44 percent in 2005, the bank said.
US officials, though, said they did not expect pressure to rescind the aid boycott this week, arguing that the West needs to see the exact makeup and political program of the new unity government, which is not due to be unveiled for another three to five weeks.