Friday, October 13, 2006

For Rice, it's time for Palestine

By Shmuel Rosner (Washington) and Aluf Benn (Jerusalem)

Palestine. A speech

The American Task Force on Palestine made history this week. On a foggy evening, over goblets of white wine and even before dinner, the organization hosted U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "It wasn't easy to get her," said Ziad Asali, the president and founder of the organization, a bit tense before she arrived. They had asked way back in April, and only now did they get a positive answer. Asali was implying that this would be a significant speech - but also one that should not be interpreted in too exaggerated a way. "Symbolism is sometimes more important than content at this kind of event," he said.

And now Rice, who really did arrive, is talking about Palestine. Here is a sure sign that time is passing: Like president Bill Clinton in his day, for Rice, too, the volume increases as the term approaches its end. Suddenly the Palestinian issue is becoming a key aim, almost an exalted one. This, apparently, is its chimerical nature - after all, it always looks as though a solution is close enough to touch. Such a simple diplomatic achievement, so very simple. Is it possible that Rice too has fallen into the trap?

Although she is thoroughly familiar with the end of Clinton's profound commitment to a solution to the conflict, she is not perturbed. "I promise you my personal commitment to that goal," she says. "There could be no greater legacy for America."

But is this indeed the case? Last July, opinion pollsters asked the American public whether the United States "has a responsibility to try to resolve the conflict between Israel and other countries in the Middle East, or is that not the U.S.'s business?" The answer was different from Rice's. Only 33 percent of the respondents thought that this is America's responsibility; 58 percent said it is none of America's business.

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