Statement of "joint understanding" released after Annapolis Conference

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

George W. Bush reads the joint statement, flanked by Ehud Olmert (left) and Mahmoud Abbas (right).

At the conclusion of the Annapolis Conference, United States President George W. Bush read a statement of joint understanding by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and President Mahmoud Abbas.

Commenting on the statement, President Bush said that: "Today, Palestinians and Israelis each understand that helping the other to realize their aspirations is key to realizing their own aspirations—and both require an independent, democratic, viable Palestinian state. Such a state will provide Palestinians with the chance to lead lives of freedom and purpose and dignity. Such a state will help provide the Israelis with something they have been seeking for generations: to live in peace with their neighbors."

Regarding the immediate future, the joint statement said: "President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert will continue to meet on a bi-weekly basis to follow up the negotiations in order to offer all necessary assistance for their advancement." It also set a target for an agreement: "We agree to engage in vigorous, ongoing and continuous negotiations, and shall make every effort to conclude an agreement before the end of 2008."

Analysts, however, are skeptical that the two leaders, who are both politically weakened at home, will be able to reach an agreement by the deadline. There are also doubts about how hard Bush will push them.

"I am not persuaded yet that they have grasped the seriousness and the amount of work that is required to do what they say they want to do—to reach an agreement on the core issues by the end of the Bush administration," said Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson Center.

It's going to be hard, but you had support in that room that you had not had from Arab states in the past.

—Condoleezza Rice

"Neither has the support at home or the control of his government to do something extremely serious," said Jon Alterman, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"There is, I think, considerable doubt remaining about whether the administration is prepared to take on the heavy lifting ... to make this work," said Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution.

"This was an investment of presidential prestige that we hadn't seen before," said Daniel Levy of the New America Foundation. Levy saw reason for "very, very guarded optimism" and praised the commitments made by Abbas and Olmert.

Iran was notably absent from the list of conference participants. "The Arabs have come here not because they love the Jews or even the Palestinians," an advisor to the Palestinian team told The New York Times on condition of anonymity. "They came because they need a strategic alliance with the United States against Iran."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice felt the conference was a success. "It's going to be hard, but you had support in that room [in Annapolis] that you had not had from Arab states in the past," she said on television.

Meanwhile, in the West Bank, hundreds protested the Annapolis Conference in conjunction with a funeral in Hebron. They clashed with security forces who fired shots into the air to disperse the crowd. At least 24 people have been reported injured.

Also, today, Israeli aircraft targeted a Hamas base in the Gaza Strip, killing two Hamas members and wounding more than 10 others, according to Palestinian officials.


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