No news from Rice
Photo: AFP
Rice does not bear new tidings, sources say
Secretary of State's visit to Israel anticipated to be a "maintenance" trip, with no news regarding progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front or possible ties with other Arab nations
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is not expected to arrive in Israel Wednesday with any ground-breaking messages from the Arab world, regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or possible ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, sources from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said Tuesday night.


Rice is expected to land in the afternoon and go from there to a meeting with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. She will then meet with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and, later, President Shimon Peres. She will end her day in Jerusalem with a one-on-one meeting with Olmert.


Thursday, the Secretary of State will head to Ramallah, where she will meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.


Rice's trip to the Middle East, four months since her last visit to the region, was aimed primarily at dealing with the situation in Iraq. As such, her visit to Israel was referred to by Olmert aides as a "maintenance" visit.


She is expected to make a formal announcement of the American aid package to Israel - $30 billion over the next ten years - and will also likely state the US' intention of selling $20 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, in order to help them fight the strengthening influence of Iran, Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas in the region.


Rice is expected to follow the policy set out by US President George Bush in his meeting with Olmert in Washington, a month and a half ago. It is based on the idea of turning Hamas' June takeover of Gaza from a liability into an opportunity.


"The big question is whether the situation is reversible or not. This is the question in the background of meetings in the region, including Rice's visit," said one government source.


"For now, we need to preserve the dialogue with Abbas and Fayyad, in order to strengthen them and create a political channel with the Palestinians. Only this can bring about a change in situation for the Palestinians," the source said.


"This is in preparation for elections that will return the hegemony to Fatah. For now, we and the international community are providing the basis for such a process," he added.


It is unclear at this point whether talks with Rice will involve an upcoming international conference anticipated for this autumn, which was recently proposed by President Bush.


The sources were doubtful whether Rice will arrive bearing news of potential ties with Saudi Arabia.


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