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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Israel and Palestine agree to talk peace, create Palestinian State

Israel and Palestinians okay peace and statehood negotiating plan

By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press Writer

Opening a high-stakes Mideast peace conference, President Bush announced a joint agreement among Israeli and Palestinian leaders Tuesday to reach a peace pact by the end of 2008. Negotiations would begin within weeks to establish "a democratic Palestinian state that will live side by side with Israel in peace and security," he said.

The agreement was reached after weeks of intense negotiations and it was not clear until Bush stepped to the podium in the majestic Memorial Hall at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis that the two sides would come together on how to move forward on the path toward peace.

"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."

The first peace talks are to be held Dec. 12, Bush said, and are to continue biweekly after that.

Bush was followed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who said in prepared remarks that any Mideast peace deal should ensure that Palestinians have East Jerusalem as their capital, and he also calls for a halt to Jewish settlements in disputed lands.

Bush spoke before representatives of more than 50 nations and organizations that he had summoned to Annapolis for a daylong conference aimed at restarting the stalled peace process.

"The task begun here in Annapolis will be difficult," Bush acknowledged. "This is the beginning of the process, not the end of it."

"The time is right, the cause is just, and with hard effort, I know they can succeed," he said.

Said Abbas: "Let us make peace of the brave, and protect it for the sake of our children and your children."

At the same time, the Palestinian leader gave no indication that his side was willing to concede on any of the flashpoint issues that have derailed previous peace efforts: the status of disputed Jerusalem, refugees, the borders of an independent Palestine and Israeli settlements.

"I have the right here to defend openly and with no hesitation the right of my people to see a new dawn, with no occupation, no settlement, no separation wall, no prisons with thousands of prisoners, no assassinations, no siege, and no roadblocks around villages and cities," Abbas said.

He called for a peace that "includes a halt to all settlement activities including natural growth, reopening the closed Jerusalem institutions, removing settlement outposts, roadblocks, and releasing prisoners, and facilitating our authority's tasks of imposing order and sovereignty of law."

And Abbas also said that it was his "duty" to say that the fate of Jerusalem, which both sides want to claim as their capital, must be central to any deal. "We want East Jerusalem to be our capital, and to have open relations with West Jerusalem, and to allow all believers from all faiths to practice their rituals and to reach sacred places without unfairness and on the basis of what is guaranteed by international and human laws," he said.

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