Rice Calls Path to Middle East Democracy Difficult but Possible

Secretary asks that all support creation of peaceful, democratic Palestine

By Rebecca Ford Mitchell
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- There is currently “an unprecedented and incredibly delicate opportunity for peace” that all who seek the creation of an independent, democratic Palestine living in peace alongside Israel must support, says Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Speaking to an American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference May 23, Rice said the Palestinian people began meeting their democratic challenges by electing President Mahmoud Abbas in an historic election in January.

Abbas, she said, is “a leader who rejects violence as a path to peace” and, in response, President Bush has offered U.S. friendship.

The Palestinian president will visit Washington to meet with Bush May 26. Their relationship will be “based on the good faith” that only a democratically elected leader can bring to talks of peace between the Palestinians and Israelis, the secretary said.

President Bush, Rice noted, refused to meet with the former leader of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, because “Arafat valued neither Israel’s security nor his own people’s liberty.”

Rice said Israel’s prime minister, Ariel Sharon, also recognizes that “Israel is gaining a legitimate partner for peace, and he has made courageous decisions that could change the course of history,” in a reference to the plan to withdraw Israeli settlements from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.

She said, however, that Israel must take no actions “that prejudice a final settlement or jeopardize the true viability of the Palestinian state” and that Israel must help create the conditions for the emergence of democracy there.

The Palestinian Authority, for its part, must advance democratic reform and dismantle all terrorist networks in its society, Rice said.

The United States is contributing $350 million to help the Palestinians build democratic institutions, has sent Army Lieutenant General William Ward to coordinate international assistance helping to reform the Palestinian security services, and supported the appointment of James Wolfensohn by the Quartet (a group, consisting of the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia, committed to a lasting settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict) as special envoy to help with the nonmilitary aspects of the Gaza disengagement, including disposition of assets and revitalization of the Palestinian economy, Rice said.

To show their support of the peace process, she said, “Arab states must end incitement in their media, cut off all support for terrorism and extremist education, and establish normal relations with Israel.”

Sixty years of previous U.S. policies in the Middle East, Rice said, were based on the “false choices” of “either freedom or stability, either democracy or security.” She said those policies played a part in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. President Bush, she said, has a new policy -- “a strategy that recognizes that the best way to defeat the ideology that uses terror as a weapon is to spread freedom and democracy.”

The rightness of supporting liberty, Rice said, can be seen in the recent actions undertaken by the people of Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Iraq and Lebanon in seeking democracy.
“The destiny of the Middle East is bound up in the global expansion of freedom,” she said. “The days of thinking that this region was somehow immune to democracy are over.”

“Even the unelected leaders in Tehran must recognize this fact,” she said. “They must know that the energy of reform that is building all around them will, one day, inspire Iran’s citizens to demand their liberty and their rights. The United States stands with the people of Iran.”

Rice said the people of the Middle East are “expressing ideas and taking actions that would have been unthinkable only one year ago.” Seeking to “amplify the voices of reform” in the region, she said, the United States is partnering with others to support the goals of “political openness, economic liberty, educational opportunity and the empowerment of women,” and she praised recent steps toward political reform made by Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Kuwait, she noted, just last week granted women the right to vote.

The transcript of Rice's remarks is available on the State Department’s Web site.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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