WASHINGTON - US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday that Israel and the Palestinians would have to implement the diplomatic plan known as the road map en route to a permanent peace agreement.
Speaking to reporters on her flight from Tel Aviv to London, Rice hinted that to advance the peace process, Israel would have to freeze settlement growth and dismantle illegal outposts, while the Palestinians would have to take apart terror infrastructures.
Sources in Washington said the secretary of state's comments indicate a "back to reality" attitude on her part.
Rice said that her Mideast trip focused not only on obtaining a declaration of principles, but also on implementing the Road Map.
"Obviously, this is the beginning of a process and it’s the most serious process that they've had in some time (Israel and the Palestinian Authority)," she said.
"And so I talked not only about the document but also about how they could, in advance of any meeting that would take place, enhance confidence that they are indeed moving to a new set of conditions. And that means carrying out phase one of the Road Map obligations. It means confidence-building measures that might be taken. So we spent a great deal of time, a good deal of time, on that issue as well."
'Look what happened in Gaza'
Rice also expressed her thoughts on the possible threats Israel may face should it withdraw from the territories.
"If, in fact, they're going to be asked to withdraw from the West Bank at some point, what does that mean for the security of Israel? That's a fair question. It really is," she said. "And so one of the things that I take back is that we are going to need to spend a lot of time thinking about how this (Palestinian) state, if we are fortunate enough to be able to bring it into being, how it is going to relate to the security of its neighbor and vice versa.
"They (Israel) had the withdrawal from Lebanon and it brought instability in Lebanon. They had the withdrawal from the Gaza, and look what happened in Gaza," said the secretary of state.
National Security Advisor Steve Hadley is expected to arrive in Israel next week, while Rice is scheduled to return to the region in November.
Rice said there was significant progress made regarding the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but stressed that the declaration of principles, which will apparently be presented at the upcoming Annapolis peace conference, would not resolve them.
"It couldn't completely do that in seven weeks, eight weeks, nine weeks. It couldn't conceivably do that. So all this document is trying to do is to demonstrate that they believe that they have a basis for pushing forward on the resolution of those outstanding issues," she said.