Deal ‘by the time Bush steps down’


IN A well-or­ches­trated grand open­ing, the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion launched its most ro­bust at­tempt to date to achieve a Mid­dle East peace process.

The con­fer­ence, held in An­napo­lis, Mary­land, pro­duced an Amer­i­can time frame call­ing for a fi­nal-sta­tus agree­ment to be reached by the end of 2008, a dead­line that co­in­cides with US Pres­i­dent Bush’s end of term.

“In fur­ther­ance of the goal of two states, Is­rael and Pales­tine, liv­ing side-by-side in peace and se­cu­rity, we agree to im­me­di­ately launch good­faith bi­lat­eral ne­go­ti­a­tions in or­der to con­clude a peace treaty, re­solv­ing all out­stand­ing is­sues, in­clud­ing all core is­sues with­out ex­cep­tion, as spec­i­fied in pre­vi­ous agree­ments,” reads the joint Is­raeli-Pales­tinian state­ment, which was agreed upon only min­utes be­fore the open­ing of the sum­mit.

Pres­i­dent Bush stressed in his speech at the con­fer­ence that the event should be seen as a launch pad for dis­cus­sions, not as a goal in it­self. At­tended by 46 for­eign min­is­ters, among them se­nior rep­re­sen­ta­tives from al­most ev­ery Arab coun­try, the sum­mit was meant to pro­vide in­ter­na­tional sup­port for Is­raeli and Pales­tinian lead­ers in their ef­fort to end the con­flict.

“Achiev­ing this goal is not go­ing to be easy — if it were easy, it would have hap­pened a long time ago,” he said.

Ehud Olmert out­lined Is­rael’s will­ing­ness to go for­ward with a two-state so­lu­tion, say­ing to his Pales­tinian coun­ter­part: “We are not in­dif­fer­ent to this suf­fer­ing. We are not obliv­i­ous to the tragedies you have ex­pe­ri­enced.”

Aiming to en­sure the sum­mit did not end as a mere photo op­por­tu­nity, the ad­min­is­tra­tion stressed the need for a par­al­lel process which in­cludes im­me­di­ate launch­ing of fi­nal-sta­tus talks and full im­ple­men­ta­tion of the first phase of the Road Map.

In an ap­par­ent shift in the Amer­i­can stand­point, the ad­min­is­tra­tion also agreed to take on the role of a mon­i­tor­ing author­ity, mak­ing sure each side lives up to its Road Map com­mit­ments. The US will also make judg­ments on this is­sue, which in­cludes the de­mand that Pales­tini­ans curb ter­ror and that Is­raelis freeze set­tle­ment ac­tiv­ity.

An Arab diplo­mat told the JC that set­ting a time frame for an agree­ment and build­ing a mon­i­tor­ing mech­a­nism are two moves that make An­napo­lis a suc­cess. “We feel that with th­ese two con­di­tions met, there is a good chance of ac­tu­ally mov­ing for­ward,” he said.

Sec­re­tary of State Con­doleezza Rice, the driv­ing force be­hind the An­napo­lis con­fer­ence, out­lined a se­ries of ac­tions, in­clud­ing an­other bi­lat­eral meet­ing in two weeks, an­other meet­ing of the Quar­tet, and an in­ter­na­tional donors’ con­fer­ence a week later in Paris.


Ehud Olmert ( left) touches Mah­moud Ab­bas’s hand as they take their seats at the open­ing ses­sion of the An­napo­lis con­fer­ence on Tues­day

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