Washington – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Thursday with leaders from major Jewish organizations to discuss the latest developments on the Israeli-Palestinian front. The meeting took place minutes after a formal announcement was made in Mecca regarding the agreement reached on a Palestinian national unity government.
Rice, who had yet to read the new Palestinian platform, said that the United States was still insisting that Hamas accept all three conditions set forth by the Quartet: recognizing Israel, renouncing terror and accepting existing agreements with Jerusalem. She told the Jewish leaders that even if Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sits in a unity government with Hamas, America would continue viewing him as a partner for negotiations. At the same time, Rice added, the United States would not meet with P.A. ministers aligned with Hamas.
As she responded to questions from representatives of Jewish organizations who attended the meeting, Rice detailed her goal of providing the Palestinians with a “political horizon.” She said that the goal of identifying a “final destination,” as she called it, is to eliminate misunderstanding between Palestinians and Israelis and to improve the atmosphere. According to several participants, Rice stressed the need to show the Palestinians that the key to achieving an independent state is in the hands of Abbas, not Hamas.
She also assured participants that the United States would not apply any pressure on Israel and would not come up with its own suggestions for the “political horizon” once negotiations begin. Rice is sponsoring a February 19 meeting between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
“She was very reassuring,” said one of the Jewish leaders who attended the meeting.
Rice also addressed the issue of Iran, saying that Teheran is vulnerable to international pressure; the international pressure on the Iran, she added, should continue. Contrary to the Russian view, Rice said, the United States believes that the pace of the actions against Iran should be picked up, because of the developments in its nuclear program.
The meeting, which took place at the State Department, lasted 45 minutes and was attended by leaders and Washington representatives of 15 major Jewish groups, including the American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, Anti-Defamation League, the United Jewish Communities, Jewish Council of Public Affairs, Americans for Peace Now, Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, Hillel, and the Republican Jewish Coalition, as well as Agudath Israel of America, Chabad, the Orthodox Union nd representatives of the Reform and Conservative synagogue movements.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.