Bush announces Israeli-Palestinian pledge

RON KAMPEAS, JTA

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (JTA) — President Bush announced a joint pledge by Israeli and Palestinian leaders to endeavor to achieve peace by the end of 2008 under close U.S. supervision.

In the joint statement, Palestinians and Israelis announced a tight deadline: end of 2008. But, speaking separately, they revealed the substantial distance they have yet to travel.

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The gaps at the U.S.-convened talks Tuesday in Annapolis, Md. were manifest in the precedents each side cited in their speeches.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, said a peace agreement must be consistent with Resolution 194, the 1949 U.N. resolution that called for a return of Palestinian refugees to their homes in the then-newly established Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the agreement would be based in part on President Bush’s April 2004 letter to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon — a document that counted rejected any such return of refugees.

The two speeches differed in tone as well: Olmert, while adamant in defending Israel’s right to security, was expansive toward the Palestinians, including the refugees and their descendants. Abbas, by contrast, acknowledged his obligation to combat terrorism in defensive, almost defiant terms.

Olmert’s speech marked the first time Israel formally committed to helping solve the Palestinian refugee problem — and, extraordinarily, went so far as to implicitly acknowledge Palestinian suffering as a cause of terrorism.

“For dozens of years, many Palestinians have been living in camps, disconnected from the environment in which they grew, wallowing in poverty, neglect, alienation, bitterness, and a deep, unrelenting sense of deprivation, ” he said. “I know that this deprivation is one of the deepest foundations which fomented the ethos of hatred towards us. We are not indifferent to this suffering. We are not oblivious to the tragedies you have experienced. “

He envisioned Israel joining an international effort “to assist these Palestinians in finding a proper framework for their future, in the Palestinian state which will be established in the territories agreed upon between us. “

Abbas cast his need to combat terrorism in terms of defending Palestinian rights.

“I wish to emphasize that we shall pursue our obligations under the road map in order to combat chaos, violence, terrorism, and to ensure security, order and the rule of law, ” Abbas said, referring to the “road-map, ” the effort President Bush launched in 2003 to end terrorism and establish a Palestinian state.

“The government of the Palestinian National Authority works tirelessly and without any wavering under extremely difficult conditions to achieve this noble goal that represents first and foremost a Palestinian national interest before it becomes a political requirement that is imposed by signed accords or the road map, ” Abbas said.

In the joint statement, announced by Bush prior to the speeches by Olmert and Abbas, the two sides announced: “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. “

They agreed “to engage in vigorous, ongoing and continuous negotiations, and shall make every effort to conclude an agreement before the end of 2008. “

The sides will establish a steering committee that will meet for the first time on Dec. 12.

They will adhere to the “road map, ” the process set out by President Bush in 2003 that calls on Palestinians to combat terrorism and the Israelis to freeze settlement in its first stage.

However, now the sides will have to defer to an “American-Palestinian and Israeli mechanism led by the United States to follow up on the implementation of the road map. “

According to the joint statement, “the United States will monitor and judge the fulfillment of the commitment of both sides of the road map ” — a plan that intensifies U.S. involvement to an unprecedented extent.

Published Nov. 27, 2007

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