Sunday, December 02, 2007

NEW YORK TIMES [NYTimes Group/Sulzberger] - By Helene Cooper - November 29, 2007

WASHINGTON, Nov. 28 - Three weeks ago, in a windowless conference room in the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice confidently dismissed the Middle East peacemaking attempts of her predecessors. "It hasn't worked," she told reporters traveling with her. "So, with all due respect, I'll try it my way."

This week, the Condoleezza Rice way toward reaching a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians got off the ground. It will take a year to find out if Ms. Rice's way will succeed in reaching a goal that has eluded secretaries of state for 60 years.

But one thing is clear: the Rice approach to Middle East diplomacy is far more restrained than that of her predecessors, and it consists of pushing Israel - as well as her boss, President Bush - only so far, while putting off the big, hard fights until the end. That strategy won Ms. Rice a conference in Annapolis, Md., on Tuesday, one that resuscitated peace talks over the entrenched final status issues that have bedeviled peace negotiators for decades. Even some of Ms. Rice's strongest critics acknowledge that the revival of the talks is at least a step in the right direction.

But she chose not to prod Mr. Bush to push Israel in turn into defining the principles that would govern the final status issues. - - -

Middle East specialists are saying that if Ms. Rice is to succeed in actually brokering a peace deal, she will have to get Mr. Bush to push Israel to agree to all of that and much more in the give and take of the haggling to come.

"The Israeli and Palestinian experience with Rice is that she can be quite tough," said Martin S. Indyk, a former United States ambassador to Israel. "When she's pushing, they pay attention. She's not pushing because she doesn't feel that she has the solid backing of the president." - - -

All sides agree that there would have been no conference in Annapolis - and no decision for the United States to re-engage in peacemaking - were it not for Ms. Rice, who made eight trips to Israel in the last year. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, made a point of singling her out for thanks in his speech.

Ms. Rice's backers point out that she has received Arab backing for the peace initiative, including the highest-level contact between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which do not have diplomatic relations. Ms. Rice made more than three dozen telephone calls to Arab leaders in the week before the Annapolis meeting to make sure that Arab officials, including the Syrians, would attend. - - - -

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