U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas confirmed today (Monday, Feb. 7) that Americans will monitor the cease fire expected to be formally agreed to tomorrow by
Israel and the Palestinian Authority at the
Sharm el-Sheikh summit.
At a joint news conference following their meeting in Ramallah, Abbas said that "the United States has agreed that there will be observers to help prevent any confrontation and to remove all areas of trouble between the Israeli and Palestinian sides, and I think that Dr. Rice has informed us of the need to deploy a high-ranking envoy from the American administration, who will assume many tasks related to issues on the table between the Israeli and Palestinian sides."
Rice, who later identified the person Abbas had in mind as General William Ward, said rather than being an envoy, he would be a "security coordinator for the United States."
"The idea," she said, "is to have someone who is responsible for helping the Palestinians in reform of their security forces, for helping with monitoring, and not to supplant the activities and the efforts of the parties. I do believe it’s most important that the Israelis and the Palestinians have security cooperation that is bilateral, that is strong, that is robust, that is dealing with most of the problems. When the United States can be helpful, we would be prepared to be helpful and we will have therefore a security coordinator.... and it really is to provide a focal point for training, equipping, helping Palestinians build their forces and also for monitoring, and if necessary to help the parties on security matters. But again, I want to emphasize we believe the best security cooperation is between the parties themselves"
Setting the stage for what may come out of the Sharm el Sheikh meeting, in which Jordan
and Egypt will also be participants, Abbas said: "Extensive negotiations have preceded this summit to discuss a number of Palestinian issues and demands in light of a cease-fire declaration by the Palestinian side. These demands are related to Israel’s commitment to stop its operation against the Palestinian people as well as demands related to its withdrawal from Palestinian cities and the resolution of the issue of wanted men. Other issues were also discussed, including those related to settlements, the wall and the widely asked-about issue of Jerusalem. What we care about is that we have started a campaign that will surely consume a lot of time in Sharm el-Sheikh, which, of course, won’t be the last such meeting. There have to be more meetings held at the highest levels between us and the Israelis, as well as follow-up on all these matters, including the withdrawal from Gaza and the implementation of the Road Map.:
Rice said "this is an extremely important time because we do have a new opportunity before us and as I said to President Abbas, we recognize the very important steps that the Palestinians must take for a secure environment, to make certain that violence cannot take place, that there is, as the president, says, one authority and one law and one gun, that the security forces are united and that they are able to fight terrorism.
"The Israelis have obligations, too, and I said to them that in addition to the obligation to do everything possible to help the emergence of a democratic state, that it is especially important that there not be unilateral steps, unilateral changes to the status quo.
"I think that it is well known that we’ve had concerns about the route of the fence; I think it’s well known that we’ve had concerns about settlement activity, and of course on the law on absentee landowners. We discussed this with the Israelis and it is my understanding that the Supreme Court has set that aside. We’ve had a number of issues and we’ve talked about them. The larger point is that it is time for both parties to make their maximum efforts to give this chance for peace a real chance, and I’ve been encouraged by my conversations here and my conversations with the prime minister in Israel that, in fact, both parties understand the moment before them and understand their responsibilities."