Abbas raps opponents of Mideast peace pact

March 4, 2008 8:52:38 AM PST
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas fell short of announcing a resumption of peace talks Tuesday, but declared that "peace and negotiations are our strategic choice."Abbas' government cut off the talks, after an upsurge in fighting between Israel and Hamas-ruled Gaza.

"I call on the Israeli government to halt its aggression so the necessary environment can be created to make negotiations succeed, for us and for them, to reach the shores of peace in 2008," Abbas said, referring to the goal - stated at a U.S.-sponsored Mideast peace conference in November - of reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty by the end of the year.

His latest comments came in a joint news conference with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Rice said: "What we are trying to achieve is not easy ... but I do believe it can be done. We need very much for everybody to be focused on peace."

Referring to the opponents of peace, she said, "We won't let them win."

U.S. Officials had said earlier that walking away from talks plays into the hands of militants, and Rice blamed Palestinian Hamas radicals for provoking an Israeli military onslaught in the Gaza Strip. The campaign has derailed an already troubled U.S-backed drive for peace terms this year.

"Negotiations are going to have to be able to withstand the efforts of rejectionists to upset them, to create chaos and violence, so that people react by deciding not to negotiate, " Rice said in Egypt at the start of two days of efforts to rescue negotiations. "That's the game of those who don't want to see a Palestinian state established."

Rice said she still thinks the two sides can reach a deal for Palestinian statehood this year.

"I do think that negotiations ought to resume as soon as possible," Rice told reporters Monday on her way to the Middle East. "I understand that the situation has been complicated. But the longer the negotiations are not ongoing or the longer that they are suspended, if that's what one wants to call it, the more it is a victory for those who don't want to see a two-state solution."

Rice was also looking for ways to speed aid into Gaza, sealed off for months as Israel tries to punish Hamas and break its rule. She said proposals from Egypt and the Palestinians to reopen a monitored border crossing point have merit.