Bush Makes Push for Mideast Peace

Officials from more than 40 nations gather in Annapolis, Md., for the start of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The summit is the Bush administration's first initiative in seven years. Analysts urge President Bush to use his full influence to help bring about peace.

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The Saudis are there. Syria has sent a delegation. Some four dozen countries and organizations are gathered today in Annapolis, Maryland in hopes of launching Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

President Bush called the meeting, then lowered expectations, and now says he'll stand back and let Israeli and Palestinian leaders make a start at working out their own future.

Though this will be mainly a day of speeches and promises, some participants have come expecting more, particularly from Mr. Bush.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: President Bush has spoken only in broad terms about what an eventual peace deal would entail. That was again the case last night at a State Department banquet when he toasted Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Ohmert, Palestinian authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and other dignitaries gathered for the Annapolis conference.

(Soundbite of presidential speech)

President GEORGE BUSH: We've come together this week because we share a common goal - two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. Achieving this goal requires difficult compromises, and the Israelis and Palestinians have elected leaders committed to making them.

KELEMEN: His national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, has said this is not the time for the U.S. to put out specific ideas such as where the borders should be or how Jerusalem could be shared.

But Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, says he came here because he's been assured that the Bush administration will use its full influence, and he said the president's words today will matter.

Prince SAUD AL-FAISAL (Foreign Minister, Saudi Arabia): Very important for everyone, not just for me. It is important for the peace process as a whole. Without the full commitment of the United States in this regard, I don't think things will move.

KELEMEN: The Bush administration wanted the Saudis and other key Arab states here to help the Palestinians and to show the Israelis that there's a prospect for a wider peace with the Arab world.

But speaking yesterday afternoon at the Saudi embassy, Saud Al-Faisal said his country won't normalize ties with Israel until there is a peace deal. And he made clear he has no plans to shake hands with the Israeli prime minister in Annapolis for the sake of a photo-op.

Prince AL-FAISAL: Shaking hands is to give an impression of something that is not there. There are no good relations between Israel and the Arab world. What do we shake hands about? Let's make peace and then shake hands.

KELEMEN: The Israelis and Palestinians have said their goal is to reach a peace deal by the time President Bush leaves office. The idea of the meeting in Annapolis is to get enough international support for this latest effort and to help the Palestinians lay the groundwork for eventual statehood.

That's where other delegations fit in. The European Union's commissioner for external relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, spoke in an interview yesterday about the need for follow-up.

Ms. BENITA FERRERO-WALDNER: After Annapolis, there will be an important pledging conference in Paris, where we Europeans of course will maintain our high levels of support to the Palestinians, but where we also want to see burden-sharing by our Arab friends.

KELEMEN: She says the European Union and its member states together have given about $1.5 billion in aid to the Palestinians this year and are promising now to intensify efforts to build up Palestinian institutions, jumpstart the economy, and keep encouraging Israelis to ease restrictions on the Palestinians.

Ms. FERRERO-WALDNER: I think it's highly important that on the ground things can change. If there is no change on the ground, then the political process might get stuck.

KELEMEN: But just who will monitor all this?

Waldner says the best option is the so-called quartet - the U.S., European Union, United Nations and Russia - a group that met yesterday and will be a part of the conference today in Annapolis.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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Israel, Palestinians to Resume Statehood Talks

President Bush greets Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. i i

President Bush (center) greets Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (left) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the beginning of the Middle East peace summit in Annapolis, Md., on Tuesday. Chip Somodevilla/Getty hide caption

itoggle caption Chip Somodevilla/Getty
President Bush greets Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

President Bush (center) greets Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (left) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the beginning of the Middle East peace summit in Annapolis, Md., on Tuesday.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Israeli and Palestinian representatives at a Mideast peace conference reached an agreement Tuesday to begin new negotiations toward the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

President Bush presented the joint statement from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to top officials from more than 40 countries, including Arab nations, attending the meeting in Annapolis, Md.

"In furtherance of the goal of two states — Israel and Palestine — living side by side in peace and security, we agree to immediately launch good-faith bilateral negotiations in order to conclude a peace treaty, resolving all outstanding issues, including all core issues, without exception, as specified in previous agreements," said the statement read by Bush.

Meeting Next Month

The document laid out a specific timetable for the negotiations, with the first meeting scheduled for Dec. 12. The statement said the negotiations will be "vigorous, ongoing and continuous," with a goal of reaching a deal by the end of 2008.

Permanent steering committees from each side will be set up to meet throughout the process. Olmert and Abbas also agreed to meet in person biweekly.

"We express our determination to bring an end to bloodshed, suffering and decades of conflict between our peoples; to usher in a new era of peace, based on freedom, security, justice, dignity, respect and mutual recognition; to propagate a culture of peace and nonviolence; to confront terrorism and incitement, whether committed by Palestinians or Israelis," the statement said.

"Today, Palestinians and Israelis each understand that helping the other to realize their aspirations is the key to realizing their own, and both require an independent, democratic, viable Palestinian state," Bush said.

He said both sides need to do their part to make the process work.

The Palestinians "must show the world they understand that while the borders of a Palestinian state are important, the nature of a Palestinian state is just as important," Bush said.

The Israelis "must show the world that they are ready to ... bring an end to the occupation that began in 1967 through a negotiated settlement," he added.

International Support

According to the agreement, a steering committee would develop a joint work plan and establish and oversee the work of negotiation teams, to be headed by one lead representative from each party. The first session of the steering committee was scheduled for Dec. 12.

"We will not avoid any subject," Olmert said in his speech. "While this will be an extremely difficult process for many of us, it is nevertheless inevitable. I know it. Many of my people know it. We are ready for it."

He cautioned that the "memory of failures in the near and distant past weighs heavily on us."

"I am not overlooking any of these obstacles we are likely to encounter. I see them," he said.

Abbas noted in his speech that neither Israel nor the Palestinian Authority "must beg for peace from the other."

"Peace and freedom is a right for us, just as peace and security is a right for you and us," he said. "It is time for the circle of blood, violence and occupation to end. It is time for us to look at the future together with confidence and hope. It is time for this tortured land that has been called the land of love and peace to live up to its name," Abbas said.

The administration wanted the Saudis and other key Arab states at the conference to help the Palestinians and to show the Israelis that there is a prospect for a wider peace with the Arab world.

The idea of the meeting in Annapolis is to get enough international support for this latest effort and to help the Palestinians lay the groundwork for eventual statehood.

The European Union's Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner spoke in an interview Monday about the need for follow-up.

"After Annapolis, there will be an important pledging conference in Paris, where we Europeans, of course, will maintain our high levels of support to the Palestinians, but where we also want to see burden-sharing by our Arab friends," Ferrero-Waldner said.

She said the European Union and its member states together have given about $1.5 billion in aid to the Palestinians this year and are promising now to intensify efforts to build up Palestinian institutions, jumpstart the economy and keep encouraging Israelis to ease restrictions on the Palestinians.

"If there is no change on the ground, then the political process might get stuck," she said.

Just who will monitor all of this?

Ferrero-Waldner said the best option is the so-called quartet — the U.S., European Union, United Nations and Russia — a group that met Monday and will be part of the conference in Annapolis.

With reporting from NPR's Michele Kelemen and The Associated Press

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