WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) said Monday that there cannot be peace in the Middle East unless the Palestinians gain a state that satisfies their aspirations.
Israel (search) also must recognize that the Palestinian state, which she said was "within our grasp," must be viable and contiguous -- meaning with enough land to function well.
Due in Israel and the West Bank for talks next Monday, Rice telegraphed her message in a conversation with State Department employees.
"I don't think any of us doubt that without a Palestinian state that is viable, that can meet the aspirations of the Palestinian people, that there really isn't going to be a peace for either the Palestinian people or the Israelis," she said.
Rice also called on Arab states to stop incitement to violence, but her emphasis was on Israel having to yield territory and "creating conditions in which a new Palestinian state could emerge."
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has volunteered to give up Gaza (search) and a few Jewish settlements on the West Bank (search), but otherwise he has not indicated how much additional land he would turn over to a Palestinian state.
Her remarks in a State Department auditorium preceded a meeting with Sharon's chief of staff for an assessment of prospects for peacemaking with the Palestinians.
The unannounced meeting with Dov Weisglass (search) was designed to bring Rice up to date on the prospects of Sharon holding talks with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and on chances of a cease-fire.
Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon said Weisglass was emphasizing "the importance of broadening security cooperation so that it will lead to more cooperation for disengagement" in Gaza.
Rice is planning to see Abbas on the West Bank. She has pledged to play a personal role in Mideast diplomacy, and her talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in the area will be her first effort to insert the Bush administration in a process in which the two sides seem to be making progress on their own.
Rice intends to stop in Israel on a trip to Europe that begins on Thursday.
Her predecessor, Colin Powell, taking his cues from President Bush, played a limited personal role after deciding Yasser Arafat was an inept and corrupt leader and involved in attacks on Israel.
Arafat's death and the election of Abbas have opened what many perceive as an opportunity for negotiations on an overall accord.
Initially, the Bush administration is trying to get Israel and the Palestinians to comply with a road map that technically has been accepted. However, the two sides have been slow to implement all provisions.
On the Israeli side this includes the dismantling of all outposts on the West Bank. An open question is whether the administration will try to restrict further Israeli construction at settlements.
In Jerusalem, Jewish settlers and their supporters protested outside parliament for a second day. They oppose Sharon's plan to remove all Israelis and all troops from Gaza and to turn it over to the Palestinians as a first step toward statehood.