Rice Visit: Preparing for Disengagement, Talk-Down About China

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice will arrive in Ramallah tomorrow for talks with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, and will meet with Prime Minister Sharon in Jerusalem on Sunday.

Contact Editor
, | updated: 11:06

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice will arrive in Ramallah tomorrow (Sabbath)for talks with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, and will meet with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem on Sunday. She told reporters yesterday, "Obviously, the primary goal for going to Israel and to the Palestinian territories at this time is to talk with the parties about the preparations for the very important and historic disengagement from the Gaza that is about to take place."

Prime Minister Sharon has often stated that among the expected "benefits" of his disengagement/retreat plan is that the U.S. will recognize large settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria. His office has also stated that the U.S. can be expected to help pay for part of the disengagement costs. Both of these assumptions are groundless, however. The U.S. State Department has belied promises to recognize Israeli control over Yesha, according to investigative journalist David Bedein, and recent statements by President Bush himself imply the same. Similarly, the U.S. has never promised financial aid for the disengagement process.

Two top officials in the U.S. State Department - Assistant Secretary David Welch and Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams - are currently in Israel, meeting with Israeli government officials to prepare Rice's visit.

This will be Secretary Rice's third trip to the Middle East since she assumed her position five months ago.

Activists working on behalf of Jonathan Pollard will hold a large protest during the visit. They continue to demand that the Bush Administration release Pollard, who is 20 years into an open-ended sentence for passing classified documents to U.S. ally Israel. The protests are also meant as a signal to Sharon himself, since he has apparently not placed Pollard on the agenda in U.S.-Israel relations.

In the course of her press briefing yesterday, Rice was fairly condescending towards Israel regarding the ongoing Israel-China-U.S. crisis. The United States has demanded that Israel confiscate Chinese-owned drone aircraft that were sent to Israel for a technological upgrade. Israel sold China the drones, designed to destroy radar stations or anti-aircraft batteries, in the early 1990s.

Rice said, "I would hope that our Israeli friends would understand that the United States, of course, has responsibility - along with others - but we have primary responsibility really for defending in the Pacific. And there is a rising concern here about military modernization in China. And while we recognize and believe very strongly that the goal of everyone has to be to integrate China as fully into the international system as possible and to try to create conditions in which China is a positive force, it is also entirely appropriate to be concerned that that happen before there is a major military escalation of China's capability. And so Israel has a responsibility to be sensitive to that, particularly given the close defense cooperation between Israel and the United States. And given that, we have had some very difficult discussions with the Israelis about this. I think they understand now the seriousness of the matter and we'll continue to have those discussions. "

Sharon's office announced yesterday that he would not hold a joint press conference with Secretary Rice. It is assumed that he does not want to face questions on his precarious political position, the pressures that the U.S. may continue to place upon him, or both.