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