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Israel Hints At Problems In Talks With Palestinian

Israel Hints at Problems In Talks With Palestinians

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice returned to the Middle East for two days of talks with Israelis and Palestinians before a planned Mideast peace conference.

This is Condoleeza Rice's third trip to Israel and Palestinian territories in the past six weeks. She is trying to get Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to agree on common principles before the planned U.S.-sponsored Mideast peace summit which is expected to take place later this month.

Speaking in Jerusalem, Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said while the preliminary talks between Israelis and Palestinians are taking place in a good atmosphere, there are problems with trying to reach an agreement on a set of principles before the meeting.

"Basically we are just at the beginning of the process and the dialogue, and there is a need to understand that while we need to find common ground with pragmatic leaders, they need to understand that the implementation of future understandings will be implemented only according to the phases of the Roadmap. The meaning is security to Israel first, and then the establishment of a Palestinian state," Livni said.

Under the terms of the internationally backed Roadmap peace plan, Palestinians are to stop attacks against Israel while Israelis are to halt settlement building in the West Bank.

Israel is only negotiating with moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip refuse to recognize Israel and have condemned the upcoming conference.

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Negotiators for Mr. Abbas say the U.S. diplomatic efforts will not be credible until and unless some sort of a deadline is established for final status talks aimed at the creation of a Palestinian state - something Israel says it is not ready to do at the present time.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk says a compromise could result if both sides simply agree on the need to begin such talks, which could eventually decide the status of Jerusalem, the issue of refugees and a border between Israel and the Palestinians.

"We need to keep our expectations low. We have not had final status negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians for seven miserable years," Indyk said. "So if the conference simply launches and blesses; the international community, the Arab states, the Quartet and so on - so if they bless the launching of final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians - that will be an achievement in itself."

Meanwhile, violence continued when three civilians were killed in the Gaza Strip after Israeli troops fired at a rocket launching site. A Palestinian militant was killed in a separate attack. Palestinian militants also carried out a series of rocket attacks against targets in southern Israel.


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