Middle East peace conference begins in Annapolis, Maryland

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

President George W. Bush addresses the participants at the Secretary of State’s dinner Monday evening, November 26.

Senior officials from nearly 50 countries and international organizations have gathered in Annapolis, Maryland near Washington, D.C. for a conference aimed at launching final-status peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The meeting, the product of months of Middle East diplomacy by the Bush administration, is intended to reopen peace talks between the two sides for the first time in seven years.

The conference, hosted by the United States Department of State, has been dubbed the Annapolis Conference. "Our purpose here in Annapolis is not to conclude an agreement. Rather, it is to launch negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians," said President George W. Bush at the first formal session of the conference. "The time is right, the cause is just, and with hard effort, I know they can succeed."

Bush said that direct negotiations for a Palestinian state will begin December 12. "Such a state will provide Palestinians with the chance to lead lives of freedom, purpose and dignity," Bush said. He hopes a solution be found before he leaves office.

As the summit got underway, thousands of people demonstrated in Gaza City. "Let them go to a thousand conferences, we say in the name of the Palestinian people that we did not authorise anyone to sign any agreement that harms our rights," said Mahmoud al-Zahar, a co-founder of Hamas. Mahmoud Abbas has no right to make concessions to the Israelis he said. "Abbas is a traitor" and "Death to Israel, death to America," the crowd chanted.

Scene at one of the meetings of the Annapolis Conference on November 27.

The Prime Minster of Israel, Ehud Olmert said: "This time it's different because we are going to have lots of participants in what I hope will launch a serious process of negotiations between us and the Palestinians."

Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority said: "We have a great deal of hope that this conference will produce... expanded negotiations over all permanent-status issues that would lead to a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian people."

Observers have noted that the summit has attracted the participation of Saudi Arabia and Syria—two Arab states that do not recognize Israel—and say that this is critical to chances for success.

The conference began informally last night with a dinner hosted by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "We've come together this week because we share a common goal: two democratic states—Israel and Palestine—living side by side in peace and security," Bush said in an address to the participants. "I'm encouraged by the presence of so many here. Achieving this goal requires the commitment of the international community, including the United States," he continued.


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