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Rice: Two-state possibility is narrowing

Condoleezza Rice suggested that the window for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is narrowing.

A state for Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip “represents compromise” for Palestinians, the U.S. secretary of state told the American Jewish Committee annual meeting Tuesday in Washington, “but it’s a state and a future and a hope.”

That hope might soon fade, she said.

“I think that the window of opportunity for that vision is not very large. Increasingly Palestinians who talk about a two-state solution are my age, and I’m not that old, but I’m a lot older than most of the Palestinian population,” said Rice, 53. And what you don’t want is that the hopelessness and the vision of the extremists have no counter.”

Such a dire warning, unusual from the Bush administration, comes on the eve of Rice’s visit to the region to prepare the ground for President Bush’s tour next month.

Palestinian moderates have warned in recent years that Israel faces the possibility of pressures for a binational state should it not negotiate a two-state solution soon. Saeb Eerekat, the top Palestinian negotiator, last week gave the two-state solution until the end of this year before its prospects start to diminish.

Rice also emphatically denied former President Jimmy Carter’s claims that the Bush administration did not oppose his recent outreach to Hamas, the terrorist group that controls Gaza.

“The United States believes and communicated to President Carter that this is a trip, a meeting let me say it that way, with Hamas that would not be helpful to our policies in the Middle East, that would give Hamas a platform from which to say that they were legitimate because a former president of the United States was meeting with them,” she said. “I don’t know how that could have been any clearer.”

She also downplayed expectations of an Israeli-Syrian peace deal as a means of splitting Iran from its allies in the region, although Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has suggested recently that the prospects have improved.

“If I thought it could be done, I would be prepared to try to deny Iran’s friends and allies absolutely, but I have to say I believe Syria behaves like Iran’s sidecar,” she said. She cited Israel’s Sept. 6 bombing of a Syrian reactor as evidence of Syria’s double dealing.

Earlier Tuesday, Rice met with U.S. business leaders promoting investment in the West Bank.

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