(Talon News) — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in an interview on Tuesday that there are “fundamental differences” in the ceasefire proposed on Tuesday between Israeli and Palestinian leaders and other peace agreements of the past. Highlighting “new Palestinian leadership that is devoted to a peaceful resolution of the conflict,” Sec. Rice noted that there is still a “hard road ahead in the Middle East.”
Speaking with NBC News’s Andrea Mitchell, Sec. Rice said that newly-elected Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “believes that the violent intifada is not the way forward for peace.” Rice also created Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for his decision “to withdraw from Gaza, which represents an opportunity to seize on the Israelis’ historic decision that they must give up land in order to have peace.”
“I have to say I was impressed with the singleness of purpose of both President Abbas and Prime Minister Sharon who both seem to realize what an historic opportunity is before them,” Rice said to Mitchell.
When asked by Mitchell of Palestinian demands for the release of prisoners, “many of whom have committed terrorist acts,” Rice said that it was not the place of the U.S. to “tell a democratically elected Israeli government what prisoners to release.”
“We do know that prisoner release is an important part of a package of getting to an agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” Rice said. “But there are obligations and responsibilities on both sides.”
The secretary of state said that the Palestinians must fight terror and fight it in a way “so that there can be permanent peace.” Rice said that the benefit of the Sharm el-Sheik summit was that the leaders could “put all of their concerns on the table.”
Mitchell asked Rice why the U.S. was not at the summit, noting that “a lot of people” think that a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians will not happen without the U.S. “putting them together in a room and forcing them to make concessions.”
Rice responded by saying it’s a “very good thing” when the parties can make progress on their own.
“And they’ve sustained a very good momentum over the last couple of weeks,” Sec. Rice noted. “And it’s a very good thing when the regional actors, Egypt and Jordan, are involved in this way because they are going to have to be party to this — they are going to have to support any agreement.”
Rice added, “The United States is very involved. I was just there with the prime minister and with the [Palestinian] president. I’ve talked to my Egyptian and Jordanian counterparts. We’ve appointed a security coordinator to help the parties move forward on the important issue of security, and so the United States is going to be and is very involved, but I don’t think it’s important for us to be at every meeting.”
In comments to reporters on Monday, Sec. Rice said that the U.S. is “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 ceasefire.”
“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,” Rice added. “We are encouraged, too, by the Israeli reaction to the Palestinian steps on security.”