Rice: Peace deal still attainable by the end of the year
The year-end goal for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is still "achievable," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday, even as both sides question whether such a goal is realistic, AP reported.
Speaking at a news conference in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Rice also urged Israel not to prejudice a final deal - a reference to continued Israeli settlement activity. And in unusually pointed criticism, Rice suggested the Israeli government could do more to improve life for West Bank residents.
Rice arrived in the region late Saturday in her latest mission to advance the troubled talks.
Washington has been pushing for a resolution of the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the end of U.S. President George W. Bush's tenure in January 2009.
But Palestinians say Israel is undermining peace moves through its continued settlement activity, a far-flung network of Israeli travel barriers in the West Bank and continued Israeli arrest raids in areas nominally under the control of Palestinian control.
Israel maintains the Palestinians cannot be relied on to provide adequate security. And both sides have expressed skepticism about reaching a deal by the end of the year.
For all the problems, Rice said in Ramallah, "We continue to believe it is an achievable goal to have an agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis by the end of the year."
A major bone of contention has been the hundreds of Israeli roadblocks in the West Bank that cripple travel and hurt the economy. Israel says the travel restrictions are needed to protect settlements and prevent militants from entering Israel.
Some of the roadblocks are no more than dirt mounds, while others are full-fledged military checkpoints. Rice told reporters that removing them is not just an issue of numbers.
"We are trying to look not just at quantity but also quality of improvements," she said, adding that she has held "extensive discussions" with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on the matter.
Barak has to authorize any roadblock removals. After nearly a year as defense minister, the skein of roadblocks remains barely changed.
After a White House meeting last month, Abbas was critical of the U.S. for not pushing Israel harder to create conditions that he thinks are more conducive to peacemaking. But on Sunday, he praised the U.S. involvement and said failure is not an option.
"We want to achieve success, and we need to reach a comprehensive agreement," he said. "If we don't reach an agreement, we have to think about what the next step will be. Now, let's not think about failure."