Olmert, Abbas shake 224..
(photo credit: AP)
Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter expressed doubts on Wednesday on whether a final status deal can be reached by the end of 2008.
"The first stage is the road map, the Palestinians failed to implement the timetable over the past two years," said Dichter.
According to the minister, "The timetable wasn't realistic to begin with, and it's still not realistic today, although it does steer us in the right direction. I suppose that by the end of 2008 we will know better how they can perform."
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced Wednesday morning that the next peace summit between the Israelis and Palestinians will be held in Moscow, thus confirming a Jerusalem Post exclusive report from Tuesday.
According to Lavrov, the date and content of the meeting have yet to be determined. He did not mention which parties, if any, have committed to attending, Army Radio reported.
US President George W. Bush on Wednesday will host another meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House to mark the formal launch of the effort, announced at Annapolis on Tuesday, to reach a permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace accord by the end of 2008.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a central player in the convening of the Annapolis meeting, announced the hurriedly scheduled three-way White House meet at the end of the day's summit talks. After Wednesday's formal launch of the new diplomatic effort, she said, the parties would continue their negotiations intensively back in the Middle East.
Israeli officials told The Jerusalem Post that the White House meeting would be capped by a formal event in the Rose Garden at which Bush would read a new statement on the revived process, with Olmert and Abbas at his side. The Palestinians are known to have been unhappy at some of the content of the joint understanding agreed just minutes before the opening of Tuesday's summit, and it may be that the Bush statement Wednesday will address some issues in greater detail than the formulation he read out at Annapolis.
Full text of The Annapolis Declaration
Wednesday's trilateral talks will mark the third time in just over 48 hours that Bush is meeting with Olmert and Abbas.
Rice reiterated in her announcement that the negotiations that would begin in earnest on December 12 would deal with "all of the core issues," including borders, refugees, security, water, settlements and Jerusalem.
"Annapolis has thus been the beginning, not the end of a new, serious, substantive effort to achieve piece in the Middle East," she said.
Bush, who initiated the Annapolis meeting more than four months ago and has set a breakthrough in the Middle East as a key goal of his last year in office, launched the summit Tuesday by reading out the joint understanding. Then he, Abbas and Olmert delivered their own speeches at the US Naval Academy's Memorial Hall.
Each of the speeches pledged allegiance to the vision of a two-state solution, and each was delivered to the applause of representatives from more than 40 countries, including some 20 Arab and Islamic states, the vast majority of which have no diplomatic ties with Israel.
While the Saudi Foreign Minister did not, as expected, shake Olmert's hand, Olmert did shake hands and "exchange pleasantries" with representatives from a number of states that don't have diplomatic ties with Israel, including Bahrain, Qatar, Morocco and Pakistan.
Saying that the parties were meeting to "lay the foundation for the establishment of a new nation - a democratic Palestinian state that will live side-by-side with Israel in peace and security," Bush said that the joint statement represented a "strong start."
"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," Bush read from the statement.
The two sides - according to the statement - agree "to engage in vigorous, ongoing and continuous negotiations, and shall make every effort to conclude an agreement before the end of 2008."
Olmert made clear in his speech that the negotiations would take place in Israel and the PA.
The joint understanding, which includes a declaration "to confront terrorism and incitement, whether committed by Palestinians or Israelis," calls for the establishment of a steering committee, led by the head of the delegations, which will meet continuously. The steering committee will then set up working groups to address the various issues. Abbas and Olmert will also continue with their biweekly meetings.
Israeli diplomatic officials said that no date had yet been set for beginning the working group sessions, and that Israel was not yet prepared for them.
Israeli officials said that one of the key elements of the joint understanding was that the US would act as referee to determine when the sides had fulfilled their commitments under the road map. Israel has said that any agreement hammered out would not be implemented until the Palestinians fulfilled their road map requirements to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank and Gaza.
The join understanding had not yet been agreed upon when the parties arrived by helicopter in Annapolis in the morning. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, according to Israeli sources, gave the document to Abbas and said the time had come to sign. When he balked, Rice - according to both Israeli and Palestinian officials - pulled him aside and convinced him to do so.
Bush began the long-awaited conference with a speech in which he said that both the Palestinians and Israel each understood that "helping the other to realize their aspirations is key to realizing their own aspirations - and both require an independent, democratic, viable Palestinian state." Bush said this state would provide Palestinians "with the chance to lead lives of freedom and purpose and dignity," and would give Israelis something "they have been seeking for generations: to live in peace with their neighbors." Bush said that the Israelis, Palestinians and the international community all had steps they needed to take in order to bring about a successful conclusion to the process.
He said 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." He called on them explicitly to dismantle the "infrastructure of terror." Israel, he said, must "show the world that they are ready to begin - to bring an end to the occupation that began in 1967, through a negotiated settlement.
He said that Israel must demonstrate its support for the creation of a Palestinian state by "removing unauthorized outposts, ending settlement expansion, and finding other ways for the Palestinian Authority to exercise its responsibilities without compromising Israel's security." He also said that the Palestinian state would be the homeland for the Palestinians, just as Israel was the homeland for the Jews.
Bush called on the Arab world, which he had labored hard over the last few weeks to get into the room, to "reach out to Israel, work toward the normalization of relations, and demonstrate in both word and deed that they believe that Israel and its people have a permanent home in the Middle East." Failure, Bush warned, would be a victory for the extremists, who he said were "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 was followed to the podium by Abbas, who - speaking in Arabic - made reference to Bush's legacy, saying, "We hope that this will be the culmination of your legacy for the world - a world more free of violence, persecution and fanaticism."
He said that the process launched at Annapolis "will lead to ending the occupation in all the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967, including east Jerusalem, as well as the Golan Heights and parts of Lebanon, and as it will also lead to resolving all the other permanent-status issues. Chief among these is the plight of Palestinian refugees, which must be addressed holistically - that is, in its political, human, and individual dimensions."
Abbas spoke in lofty terms about the conference, saying that the history in the region could be divided into the "pre-Annapolis era and its aftermath. In other words, the exceptional opportunity that the Arab, Islamic and international presence brings today, coupled with overwhelming Palestinian and Israeli public opinion in support of Annapolis, must be seized in order to be a launching pad for a negotiations
He said that the negotiations would deal with "all permanent-status issues, including Jerusalem, refugees, borders, settlements, security and water, as well as others." He called on Israel to freeze settlement construction, reopen Palestinian institutions in east Jerusalem, remove checkpoints, release prisoners and facilitate "the mission of the Palestinian Authority in restoring law and order." He reiterated that the Palestinians wanted east Jerusalem as their capital, and that this was key to any agreement. He added that this capital would have open relations with west Jerusalem, and that freedom of religion would be guaranteed.
In a direct appeal to the Israel, he said, "You are the neighbors on this small land. Neither we nor you must beg for peace from the other. It is a joint interest for us and you. Peace and freedom is a right for us, just as peace and security is a right for you and us."
"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.
Olmert, in his speech, was the only speaker to deal in any depth with the situation in Gaza, saying that the continued firing of Kassam rockets and Hamas's control of the Strip were all factors that "deter us from moving forward too hastily."
Yet, Olmert said he was going ahead with the process because neither Israel nor the Palestinians could any longer "cling to dreams which are disconnected from the sufferings of our peoples."
"We want peace," Olmert said. "We demand an end to terror, incitement and hatred. We are willing to make painful compromises, rife with risks, in order to realize these aspirations."
Olmert, acknowledging Palestinian suffering, said that Israel would be part of an "international effort" to assist in finding a solution to the refugee problem within the framework of a future Palestinian state.
Olmert also called upon the Arab delegates in the hall to begin establishing ties.
"You cannot continue to stand by indefinitely and watch the peace train go by. It is time to end the boycott and alienation towards the State of Israel," he said.
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