Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have agreed to hold confidence-building talks every two weeks that could eventually lead to discussions on establishing a Palestinian state. Speaking in Jerusalem after meeting with the two leaders, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the planned meetings are a "very positive development" that "will benefit both Israelis and Palestinians":
"I'm delighted that they are going to talk and they're going to talk often. And when people talk often and they're serious people, as the Prime Minister is and President Abbas is, they will have a meaningful discussion about their future."
Hamas, the radical Islamic fundamentalist group that won last year's Palestinian legislative elections, recently formed a unity government with Mr. Abbas' Fatah faction. The unity government has not met demands by the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations – known collectively as the Quartet - to recognize Israel, renounce terrorism and accept existing agreements and obligations, including the Roadmap.
"The Quartet’s position is clear," said Secretary of State Rice. "A path of cooperation with the new Palestinian government exists, but it is blocked by Hamas’s continued unwillingness to commit itself, by word and deed, to the Quartet principles – renouncing violence, recognizing Israel's right to exist, and adhering to previous agreements and obligations." A Palestinian Authority that accepts those principles, she said, "could contribute significantly to the fulfillment of their people’s longing for a better life and a state of their own."
Ms. Rice said she will continue to meet with Prime Minister Olmert and responsible Palestinian leaders like President Abbas to help bring about a lasting peace: "I will meet with the Prime Minister and the President periodically – sometimes separately, sometimes together – in whatever form will be most effective to accelerate progress."
"The Israelis and Palestinians are taking the initial step on the path to peace," said Secretary of State Rice," and the American role will include helping them to overcome obstacles, develop new ideas, and rally international support for their efforts."