The American pressure is expected to focus on advancing understandings reached between the two sides in the Sharm el-Sheikh summit in Egypt earlier this year. For Israel, this means the handover of more West Bank towns to Palestinian control and the release of Palestinian prisoners.
In his recent statements, President George W. Bush focused on American demands from the Palestinian and PA leader Abbas. Recently, the U.S. also related a message to European and other nations to refrain from exerting pressure on Israel for further concessions as a result of Sharon’s internal troubles and upcoming Palestinian elections.
However, the U.S. Administration is apparently also concerned about stalling the process. During her meeting at the New York Times, Rice said the key on the Israeli side is to use the momentum, including the Sharm understandings, in order to go back to the U.S.-brokered Road Map peace plan.
Rice noted both sides have obligations under the plan and said the U.S. will press both sides to deliver on their pledges.
The Americans intend to put pressure on Israel to allow passage of Palestinians through the Rafah border crossing. They believe that opening the crossing will debunk the Palestinians’ claim that the Israeli occupation of the strip in effect continues despite the pullout.
It is clear to the Americans that at present Israel cannot allow the opening of the airport or the crossing between the West Bank and Gaza. Therefore they now concentrate on facilitating the opening of the Rafah crossing.
Rice praised Israel’s and the IDF’s conduct and operations during the pullout, as well as the excellent cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians. She explained that contrary to the apparent lack of cooperation, the two sides have in fact worked together well.
According to Rice, the cooperation was not made public due to political considerations on both sides. Abbas was tremendously courageous to call Sharon and praise him for the withdrawal from Gaza, she said.