Powell to Discuss Peace With Israelis, Palestinians

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - The U.S. is gearing up for possible re-engagement in an Israeli-Palestinian peace process that has been on hold for most of the last four years because of a Palestinian terrorism war and Israeli countermeasures.

Since Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat died last week, the U.S., Palestinians and Israelis are eyeing prospects for renewing diplomatic contacts.

Secretary of State Colin Powell is scheduled to travel to Israel and the Palestinian territories next week to discuss the goal of establishing a Palestinian state in the transition period following the death of Arafat, Washington announced on Tuesday.

Powell, who announced his resignation on Monday, nevertheless said he would remain engaged in the Middle East until his successor is sworn in.

Powell also will discuss the "upcoming Palestinian presidential elections, and how all parties can support this essential step in helping a new Palestinian leadership emerge that is committed to democratic reforms, transparency in governance, restoration of law and order, and fighting terror," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

The PA has announced it will hold its first presidential elections in nine years on January 9, 2005, although some observers doubt that elections can be organized in such a short period of time.

Palestinians have said they want the U.S. to ensure free and fair elections and to jumpstart the road map peace plan.

Palestinians say that whether or not their elections succeed will depend on Israel facilitating movement throughout the West Bank. Israel has said it will do whatever it can as long as it does not comprise its own security.

PLO chairman and former PA Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) held talks with Hamas and Islamic Jihad to try to persuade them to engage in a ceasefire in the two months leading up to the elections as well as to participate in the elections.

Both groups, which oppose any negotiated settlement with Israel, have not yet agreed to a ceasefire.

Israel has cautioned that without a halt to terrorism there can be no progress in the peace process.

Following his meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Powell will travel to Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, for a conference on Iraq, where he hopes to meet with his counterparts in the Quartet, Boucher said.

The Quartet - the U.S., European Union, the United Nations and Russia - penned the so-called "roadmap" peace plan, loosely based on President Bush's Middle East address in June 2002.

The roadmap, which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian State by the end of 2005, never really got off the ground.

As Israel saw it, the first phase of the road map was for the Palestinians to not only rein in terror but to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure. That never happened.

Since Arafat's death, Israel has been adamant that the end to terrorism remains the first step toward the resumption of any diplomatic process between Israel and the Palestinians.

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