SHANNON, Ireland — Israel and the Palestinians have the same clear goal to settle their worst differences this year, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday, concluding a round of classic shuttle diplomacy that emphasized the Bush administration’s growing role as middleman.
“I think they know precisely what they are trying to do. They are trying to get to an agreement by the end of the year that is going to resolve the core issues,” Rice said.
She was responding to tension over whether Israel is scaling back ambitions in an attempt to achieve a real deal on U.S. President George W. Bush’s watch. Palestinians want any agreement to spell out the borders of an eventual Palestinian state and to make other hard calls, while Israel’s goals appear less defined.
Palestinians fear that Israel is playing a double game, negotiating the eventual separation of the Jewish state from an Arab one next door and at the same time expanding Jewish housing on land the Palestinians claim for that homeland.
Suspicion is also rising that Israel is stalling on promises to lift some antiterror roadblocks in the West Bank. The network of hundreds of barriers and checkpoints have stopped would-be suicide bombers from crossing into Israel but contribute to economic lassitude and unemployment among Palestinians. The United States has increased pressure on Israel to remove some restrictions to help the Palestinian economy and build confidence in negotiations Bush launched last fall.
“I don’t think there’s any bad faith here — I don’t,” Rice told reporters traveling with her en route back to Washington after the latest in a series of meetings with the players in the discussions.
“It’s not undue caution to worry about the removal of obstacles that were put there for security reasons,” she said.
The puzzle, Rice said, is to find ways to remove barriers to Palestinian movement that satisfy both sides. She said the United States is checking back after roadblocks are lifted to see if the change helped. That is a very particular business, Rice said, done at the level of one neighborhood or one business.
“That’s really just more complicated work, and I think we’re going to really start to do that,” the secretary said.