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March 31, 2003

U.S. says blueprint for Israel-Palestinian settlement not negotiable

WASHINGTON (March 31, 2003 5:04 p.m. EST) - The White House said Monday its road map for setting up a Palestinian state by the end of 2005 is not negotiable and that Israel must "play its part" to pave the way.

In a speech to a pro-Israel lobby group, Condoleezza Rice, who is President Bush's national security adviser, also called on all Arab governments to recognize Israel's right to exist and said democratic reforms within the Palestinian Authority were "extremely important."

The road map, prepared jointly with the European Union, the United Nations and Russia, is designed to reopen negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians once Abbas is confirmed as the Palestinian prime minister.

Rice's call for a quick start - one that would prevent attempts by either side to revise the terms of the so-called road map - follows complaints by European and Arab governments that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would try to arrange more favorable terms.

They registered their objections after President Bush had said "we will expect and welcome contributions from Israel and the Palestinians to this document."

But first Secretary of State Colin Powell, and now Rice, in responding to questions at the 44th annual policy meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, tried to discourage delay.

Rice, who had asked that her remarks to thousands of members of the pro-Israel lobby be off-the-record to the news media, said of Israel and the Palestinians: "We expect their comments; it is not a matter of renegotiation. It can be commented on by the parties." [more]