Israel tells Rice peace deal hinges on security

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Jerusalem, Nov 4: Israel's foreign minister told U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today that any deal Washington hoped to broker for a Palestinian state would not be implemented until Israel's security was assured.

Rice, on her third visit in six weeks to the region, is trying to bridge gaps between both sides ahead of a US-hosted conference expected in the last week of November in Annapolis, Maryland, although no official date has been announced.

Israel and the Palestinians are still at odds over a joint document for the conference, which would serve as a launching pad for negotiations on core issues such as borders and the fate of Jerusalem and millions of Palestinian refugees.

Israeli leaders have insisted that any future agreement be put into effect only after the Palestinians met their obligations under a US-backed peace ''road map'' charting reciprocal steps towards statehood.

The 2003 blueprint requires Palestinians to crack down on militants and for Israel to halt the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and remove dozens of outposts set up without Israeli government permission.

''They (the Palestinians) need to understand that the implementation of future understandings would be implemented only according to the phases of the road map -- the meaning is security for Israel first and then the establishment of a Palestinian state,'' Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told reporters, with Rice at her side.

''Nobody wants to see another terror state in the region,'' Livni said, an indirect reference to fears Hamas Islamists who took over the Gaza Strip in June could do the same in the West Bank, where President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction holds sway.

COMPLICATIONS Livni, Israel's chief negotiator for the conference, said the Jewish state was prepared to move forward in discussions with the Palestinians, although the situation was ''complicated ... more than ever''.

Rice told Livni she hoped her visit would help to ''advance the work you are doing bilaterally with the Palestinians as well as continuing to plan for the Annapolis meetings''.

On her flight to Israel, Rice told reporters it was very unlikely there would be agreement on a document during her two-day trip, during which she will meet Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert later on Sunday and see Abbas on Monday.

''They are going through some knotty discussions and I think those knotty discussions are going to continue for some time,'' Rice said late yesterday.

Israel and the Palestinians are also at odds over Abbas's call for a timeline to wrap up so-called ''final-status'' negotiations for creating a Palestinian state.

Olmert opposes a timeframe, cautioning that a failure to meet deadlines could deepen frustrations and touch off violence.

But he has said it was his goal to reach an accord before US President George W Bush ends his second term in January 2009.

Rice was also set to meet Middle East envoy and former British prime minister Tony Blair and make a speech in Jerusalem later on Sunday that is expected to encourage both sides to work harder and make bold compromises.

In violence coinciding with Rice's visit, Israeli missile strikes killed four Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, local medical officials said.

Israel said it had targeted Palestinian militants firing rockets at its territory. Palestinian officials said some of the dead were civilians.

Reuters>

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