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ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Opening a summit aimed at bringing peace to the Middle East, President Bush on Tuesday announced that the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority had agreed to immediate negotiations designed to reach a peace agreement before the end of 2008 — with the first formal negotiating session to begin this December. “We agreed to immediately launch good faith, bilateral negotiations in order to conclude a peace treaty resolving all outstanding issues, including core issues, without exception,” Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement read by Bush.
Bush said it won’t be easy to achieve the goal of creating two states — Israel and Palestine — living side by side in peace after decades of conflict and bloodshed, yet he urged the two sides to work together for the sake of their people. “Today, Palestinians and Israelis each understand that helping the other to realize their aspirations is the key to realizing their own, and both require an independent, democratic, viable Palestinian state,” Bush said. “Such a state will provide Palestinians with the chance to lead lives of freedom, purpose and dignity. And such a state will help provide Israelis with something they have been seeking for generations: to live in peace with their neighbors.” On Monday, Bush saw Abbas and Olmert separately at the White House to nudge them closer to agreement on the conference centerpiece, a joint document or “workplan” on new talks. But even with his efforts, including a pep talk to all participants at a State Department dinner, and those of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who held last-minute talks with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, the two sides had not yet bridged the gaps, officials said. Sticking points
Earlier Tuesday, Rice and Abbas met in a “last attempt to bridge the gaps between the two positions” of the Palestinians and the Israelis on a joint document, Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh told The Associated Press. A member of the Palestinian delegation, speaking on condition on anonymity, said three main obstacles had emerged:

  • All sides have agreed that two states should be established, but the Palestinians have objected to referring to Israel as a “Jewish state.” The Palestinians and their Arab backers are concerned that a specific reference to a Jewish state would prejudice the right of Palestinians who claim a right to return to land they once owned inside Israel.
  • American and Israeli officials are resisting Palestinian efforts to include language about “ending the occupation that started in 1967,” a reference to disputed Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The West Bank would form the bulk of an eventual Palestinian state and the two sides must decide which settlements would remain a part of Israel.
  • The Palestinians want the document to set a one-year timetable for reaching a resolution. The Israelis do not want this, and the Americans are open the idea.

SOURCE MSNBC

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