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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 March 2007, 17:37 GMT 18:37 UK
Muted reaction to US Mid-East peace push
By Katya Adler
BBC News, Jerusalem

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Jerusalem on 27 March 2007
Ms Rice urged Arab nations to take a more active peace role
An Israeli journalist I spoke to was dismissive as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice left Jerusalem this morning.

"Diplomacy, dishmomacy," were his actual words.

This was Ms Rice's seventh visit to the region over the last few months.

A lot of talk, little to show for it, is the accepted wisdom amongst most Israelis and Palestinians.

But Ms Rice is keen to point out that the peace process here has been stalled for years.

'Political horizons'

She cannot expect to solve the dispute in a matter of months, she says. Still, she insists some progress has been made.

Now, at least, we're still talking
Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator

"Israelis and Palestinians are interested in opening, not closing doors," she said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have agreed to meet every fortnight.

"To discuss humanitarian and security issues," says Ms Rice, but also providing an opportunity to explore what she calls "political horizons".

To many Palestinians this will seem like more frustrating diplo-speak, bringing them no closer to the dream of establishing their own independent state.

But Ms Rice says these meetings are necessary to build confidence between the two sides.

Some mutual trust must be restored, she believes, before Israelis and Palestinians can be ready to discuss the delicate details of a peace accord.

'Damage limitation exercise'

Rather less visionary was chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat's view of the visit.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (right) talks with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Riyadh
The Riyadh summit is expected to focus on the Arab initiative

A "successful damage limitation exercise" was how he put it to me.

Mr Erekat said there had been concerns Israel would reduce contacts even with those Palestinians it views as moderate after they recently joined the Islamist Hamas movement in a unity government.

"Now, at least, we're still talking," said Mr Erekat.

During this latest Middle East tour, Ms Rice also called on Arab nations to normalise relations with the Jewish state as soon as possible.

'Arab initiative'

She met the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates at the weekend - ahead of an Arab summit in Riyadh, starting on Wednesday.

The summit is likely to focus on the so-called Arab initiative.

A land-for-peace proposal where Israel would withdraw from the land it occupied after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, allowing a Palestinian state to be formed in Gaza and the West Bank, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

This done, Arab nations would recognise Israel.

But Ms Rice wants them to do so beforehand as an incentive to Israel to sit at the negotiating table.

'Biased' mediator

Palestinian critics say Ms Rice has shown, once again, that she is a friend of Israel, not an honest broker in this process.

She has called on Arab states to recognise Israel - a demand made of the Palestinian government too, as well as a call to renounce violence and honour past peace accords.

What pressure is being exerted on Israel, and what do we get in return, many Palestinians ask.

Ms Rice insists no-one should doubt America's commitment to ending the conflict here.

She wants Arab states to believe her.

The US needs their help to stabilise Iraq and to isolate Iran.

In return, they have told the US it must engage dynamically - and fairly - in mediating between Israelis and Palestinians.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Dr Rice on prospects for peace in the Middle East



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