Rice: 'Time for Palestinian state'
Updated on 15 October 2007
Amid calls for the UN to withdraw from the quartet of Middle East mediators, Condoleezza Rice says it is time for a Palestinian state.
US Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice today said it was time for a Palestinian state after a meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, as the Israeli government made conciliatory comments about the possibility of shared status for Jerusalem.
But a leading UN insider today questioned his organisation's continued membership of the Middle East quartet - the body charged with facilitating a peace process comprising Russia, the European Union, America and the United Nations.
John Dugard, the UN human rights envoy for the Palestinian terrirtories, said the quartet is now so compromised by its failure to protect Palestinians that the UN should withdraw from it.
Dr Rice is sounding more forceful about helping President Abbas than ever before.
You don't often see America's secretary of state and her secret service entourage venturing into the Palestinian West Bank.
A mere photo opportunity? Apparently not, for President Bush has tasked Dr Rice with organising a Middle East peace conference. Not in Ramallah, but in the American city of Annapolis next month.
Dr Rice is sounding more forceful about helping President Abbas than ever before. The Syrians and Saudis fear the conference is a publicity stunt. Hamas will not be invited, and has joined Iran in calling for a boycott. But Dr Rice's message? This time, America means business.
President Abbas says he wants a timetable towards that state. But Israel's prime minister Ehud Olmert, who saw Dr Rice yesterday, is so far refusing to commit himself.
And it isn't even clear the two sides can agree a conference agenda: the state's borders, its refugees, Jerusalem as a joint Israeli-Palestinian capital.
The Americans have failed to stop Israel's separation barrier carving inside Palestinian territory. And according to the UN's human rights envoy there, the plight of the Palestinians is now desperate.
Professor Dugard says he will write to the UN general assembly suggesting that "the secretary general withdraw the UN from the quartet" if it doesn't address Palestinian human rights.
He described Israeli security restrictions as "very disproportionate", with some checkpoints designed to "make the life of Palestinians as miserable as possible".
In May, the outgoing UN Middle East envoy, Alvaro de Soto, warned in a confidential farewell report that the quartet was biased thanks to the Americans and the UN itself.