WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told an American Jewish audience Tuesday that young Palestinians are losing hope for an agreement with Israel.
"Increasingly, the Palestinians who talk about a two-state solution are my age," Rice, 53, said in a somber speech to The American Jewish Committee at its 102nd annual meeting.
Insisting that the Bush administration will never yield to dealing with Hamas militants, Rice said, "What you don't want is that the hopelessness and the vision of the extremists have no counter."
Set to leave early Thursday for more jawboning with moderate Arabs and Israeli leaders, after talks in London designed to raise more economic support for the Palestinians, Rice called on Israel to make "difficult decisions" to provide the Palestinians with the dignity of statehood.
In fact, she said, "we have a chance to reach the basic contours of a settlement by the end of the year" — a scaling back of President Bush's initial hope for a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians before he leaves office.
Rice also poured cold water on any prospects that Israel and Syria could negotiate peace terms.
The two sides, working partly through Turkey, have shown some renewed interest. The basis would be Israel swapping the Golan Heights for a peace treaty with its Arab neighbor.
Rice said the Bush administration had tried to interest Syria in peacemaking, with such moves as an invitation to a Mideast conference last November in Annapolis, Md.
"It is hard to see there is a Syrian regime receptive" to negotiations with Israel at this point, she said.
"Syria is like Iran's sidecar," she said, aligning itself tightly with a country that threatens Israel's existence. And, she reminded the American Jewish Committee, a powerful pro-Israel lobby and foe of intolerance and anti-Semitism, "you know about Syria's nuclear program."
Rice referred to a nuclear facility built with North Korea's cooperation and then wrecked by Israeli jets last September.
The central theme in her 15-minute speech and 20-minute question-and-answer session was that the Bush administration would not give up trying to steer Israel and the Palestinians toward a settlement that provides the Palestinians with a state.
And, the administration would have no dealings with Hamas or other Palestinian extremists that war with Israel and refuse to recognize the Jewish state.
"Either you are a political party or a terrorist group," Rice said. "You cannot be both."
Once again, Rice criticized former President Jimmy Carter for holding talks with Hamas leaders. "I don't see the point of trying to negotiate with people who are determined to destroy the foundation of peace," she said.