Hope Grows For Mideast Peace|
By PAUL HAVEN, Associated Press Writer
Tue Nov 6, 7:36 PM ET
LISBON, Portugal - Israel's
foreign minister said Tuesday that an upcoming peace conference in the United
States offers a crucial opportunity for progress, amid growing optimism that
this time — just maybe — momentum for peace is real and sustainable.
But despite the signs of hope, a slew of obstacles remain: Syria may not come to the Annapolis, Md., meeting, Saudi Arabia has yet to endorse the
emerging peace framework, and the Israeli, Palestinian and U.S. leaderships all
find themselves in weakened political states.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud
Olmert announced Tuesday that the Annapolis conference would be during the last week of
November, and that the Americans would "issue the invitations in the coming
days." Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qureia said the conference would convene on
Nov. 26, citing a date for the first time.
And in Portugal, Israeli
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni
voiced unflinching support for the U.S.-backed "road map" for peace, which she
called "the only agreed plan in town — in the world."
She praised the Palestinians for making "the right steps on the ground," an
apparent reference to security measures taken by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Livni's comments came at the end of an EU-Mideast summit in the Portuguese
capital, part of an intensified diplomatic push by Washington and the European Union to lay the groundwork
for the Annapolis meeting.
Livni said the U.S. peace talks — which are expected to bring together
Israel, the Palestinians and other Middle Eastern powers — offered an important
opportunity, but were just one more step on a long road.
"We believe in the need to take this opportunity to find common ground with
Palestinian leaders," she said. "Annapolis is part of a process. ... No less
important is the day after Annapolis."
Livni said the Arab world must "support the moderate Palestinians."
"We expect them to support the process, to support any compromise the
Palestinians need to take in order to achieve peace with Israel, and not to
dictate the outcome," she said.
That peace is even a possibility is nothing short of remarkable.
Olmert, who is battling corruption allegations and the fallout from Israel's
less-than-successful summer 2006 war in Lebanon, has seen his popularity
plummet; Abbas has been weakened by the Islamic hardline group Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip;
and President Bush is in the
twilight of an unpopular presidency.
Great things are seldom achieved by governments in such positions.
But optimists say the leaders' woes could actually be a boon to the process,
with all three hoping to remake their legacies by bringing concrete results
where those before them failed.
With just a few weeks to go before the conference, much is left to be ironed
Syria, which is among the
countries likely to be invited, said it would attend only if discussions
included the return of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau Israel captured
from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed. The position has been
rejected by Israel, even though a peace deal involving a return of the Golan was
close in the 1990s.
Saudi Arabia, a crucial
powerbroker, has been reluctant to endorse the meeting until there are clear
signs that major issues will be addressed seriously there.
And then there is the reality on the ground.
On Tuesday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak expressed doubts about peace efforts while
the Hamas militant group controls the Gaza Strip. Hamas — which has never
retracted calls for Israel's destruction — overran the territory in June,
routing troops loyal to Abbas.
Barak said Israel could not begin implementing a peace agreement until Abbas
disarmed Hamas in Gaza, a demand that could hamper peace efforts because Abbas
has little control over Gaza.
Barak has been saying for weeks that it was only a matter of time before
Israel launched a large-scale military incursion in Gaza, but on Tuesday said he
did not want to jeopardize the Mideast conference, saying Israel had no plans to
invade in the near future to halt rocket attacks out of the area on southern
Israel and the Palestinians are yet to agree on a written set of principles
outlining a future peace agreement ahead of the conference, and negotiators say
they have made little progress.
The Palestinians want the document to address "core" issues in the conflict:
future borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state, the status of
disputed Jerusalem and the
fate of Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
Israel wants a much vaguer document.
But Olmert has said he is prepared to discuss these issues after the
conference — and he sounded determined to make progress in a speech this week in
which he said that "there is no reason to suffer the same foot-dragging which
previously characterized our discussions."
At the Lisbon gathering,
European officials at the Lisbon gathering said that after years of false
starts, they sensed things were different this time around.
EU foreign policy chief Javier
Solana said there was "a new hope, a new optimism" about the prospects
for peace, while Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado said the talks in Lisbon revealed "an
enormous convergence of positions" between the Israelis and Palestinians about
how the negotiations are proceeding.
Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European Union's commissioner for external relations,
told the closed-door meeting that she hoped the world was "on the brink of
making progress toward settling this terrible, long-standing conflict,"
according to a transcript of her remarks.
She acknowledged that there was a long way to go before peace could be
achieved, but added hopefully that an Asian proverb teaches that: "A journey of
one thousand miles begins with the first step."
Associated Press writer Barry Hatton in Lisbon and Laurie Copans in Jerusalem
contributed to this report.
Original article: News-Yahoo
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