Speaking to Aljazeera from the West Bank town of Ram Allah on Monday, Uraiqat gave his reaction to visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's pledge of renewed commitment to finding a political solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

The Palestinian negotiation minister said the US must push Israel to negotiate on the main issues and help give peace a chance to succeed.

Rice is on a three-day tour of the region, having met Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon over the weekend and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas in the West Bank later on Monday.

Action, not words

Uraiqat said, "Talking about what the Israeli government can do, as opposed to [actual] requirements, will frustrate efforts to return the peace process to its natural track.

"Settlement activities, the apartheid wall and Jerusalem are the main issues that should be discussed."

"Talking about what the Israeli government can do, away from [actual] requirements, will waste all efforts to return the peace process to its natural track"

Saib Erekat,
Palestinian Negotiation Minister

He made these comments a day after Rice had expressed the hope that Israel would make the necessary painful choices, and Sharon pledged to ''consider'' the release of more Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails as a first step.

Sharon is meeting the newly elected president Mahmud Abbas on Tuesday at Sharm al-Shaikh, Egypt, to help kickstart a fresh initiative. He had refused to meet Abbas' predecessor, the late Yasir Arafat.

In addition, Uraiqat called on Washington to play its role as the head of the international Quartet - Russia, the EU and the UN are the other three members - to help support the US-backed road map to activate observation teams on the ground in the occupied territories.

Changed stance

Saying that the US role in all this was akin to a judge, helping both sides to match words with actions, Uraiqat said: "We need US help to get out detainees released, resume talks and end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands".

He suggested that with the help of observation teams on the ground, there could be a fair and impartial assessment by the whole world as to which side was implementing commitments and which side was not.

During President Bush's first term in office, Washington was seen as reluctant to pressure Israel to curtail its settlement-expansion activities, its violent raids on towns and villages and, most controversially, its building of a separation wall that has been seizing Palestinian territory along the 1967 Green Line demarcating the two sides.

Historic chance
 
Uraiqat said the top US diplomat's visit to the territories - which is intended to signal a renewed Bush commitment after much international criticism- was a ''historic chance''.

Rice asked Sharon to make the
unavoidable painful choices

"I believe [peace] may be achieved when the US administration forces the Israeli government to end unilateral procedures. This can be achieved when the administration turns Bush's vision into real political policy", he said.

On Monday, Rice said at a press conference that she had been impressed by Abbas's commitment to ending four years of violence. She encouraged dialogue between Abbas and Sharon and pledged to ''be available'' for the peace process.

She will not, however, be going on to Sharm al-Shaikh summit, scheduled for Tuesday between the two leaders.