Time For Mideast Peace Is Now, Says Pres. Bush
By David McKeeby
USINFO Staff Writer
Time for Mideast Peace Is Now, Bush Tells Annapolis Conference
The time has come for a Palestinian state and peace in the Middle East, but Israelis and Palestinians will need international help, President Bush told representatives from nearly 50 countries and international organizations at a one-day conference at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
"The time is right. The cause is just. And with hard effort, I know they can succeed," Bush said November 27, following a joint meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. (See related transcript.)
Following their meeting with Bush, Israeli and Palestinian leaders issued a "joint understanding" to restart continuous talks until outstanding issues are resolved, which they say could result in a peace treaty as early as the end of 2008. (See related text.)
"Today, Palestinians and Israelis each understand that helping the other to realize their aspirations is the key to realizing their own," Bush said, and success will require the creation of an independent, democratic Palestine, the centerpiece of Bush's proposal for a "two-state solution."
A Palestinian-Israeli steering committee overseeing the negotiations will hold its first meeting on December 12, to be followed by a December 17 donors' conference in Paris hosted by the Quartet for Middle East Peace -– the United Nations, the European Union, Russia and the United States.
"Our job is to encourage the parties in this effort -– and to give them the support they need to succeed," Bush said, calling on conference participants, particularly the 16 Arab states attending the conference, to support Abbas' and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's leadership as they work to build the institutions of a future Palestinian state.
Abbas and Olmert also pledged to implement their obligations under the Quartet's "road map" -– a comprehensive plan to resolve political, economic, security and humanitarian issues to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with the United States acting as "monitor and judge" as both sides implement the agreement.
Bush praised both leaders, saying their shared belief in the necessity of peace made the Annapolis conference possible.
"President Abbas understands that a Palestinian state will not be born of terror, and that terrorism is the enemy standing in the way of a state," Bush said. "Prime Minister Olmert has expressed his understanding of the suffering and indignities felt by the Palestinian people. He's made clear that the security of Israel will be enhanced by the establishment of a responsible, democratic Palestinian state."
The international community's participation at Annapolis, Bush added, shows not only its support for peace, but also concern about rising extremism across the region.
"The extremists are seeking to impose a dark vision on the Palestinian people, a vision that feeds on hopelessness and despair to sow chaos in the Holy Land," Bush said. "If this vision prevails, the future of the region will be endless terror, endless war and endless suffering."
Bush pledged to support Israeli-Palestinian efforts during his remaining months in office, and urged patience and flexibility on the part of negotiators, calling on Palestinian leaders to confront corruption and dismantle terrorist networks operating within its borders and on Israelis to reach a negotiated settlement, remove unauthorized outposts, end settlement expansion and support the growth of a new Palestinian state.
"The outcome of the negotiations they launch here depends on the Israelis and Palestinians themselves," Bush said.
ABBAS, OLMERT PLEDGE TO WORK TOWARD PEACE
In remarks to the conference, Abbas said that peace was possible, but would require intensive joint efforts to address the thorniest issues at the heart of the conflict, including borders, the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees across the region, the status of Jerusalem and water rights.
Olmert pledged that, despite past diplomatic disappointments and continued security threats, Israel was ready.
"The negotiations will address all of the issues which we have thus far avoided dealing with. We will do this directly, openly and courageously. We will not avoid any subject," he said.
Abbas praised Olmert as a partner in peace, and offered to the Israeli people a quote from President John F. Kennedy, "Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate."
"I believe that there is no path other than the path of peace," Olmert said. "I believe that there is no just solution other than the solution of two national states for two peoples. I believe that there is no path that does not involve painful compromise."