More promises on Palestine, but this time Bush has his reputation on the block

The meetings between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and US President George Bush have yielded the promise of immediate talks on a Palestinian nation between Israel and Palestinian leaders, with a final treaty before the end of next year.

“We meet to lay the foundations for the establishment of a new nation, a democratic Palestinian state that will live side by side with Israel in peace and security,” Bush said at a news conference in Annapolis, Md., according to this report in the Los Angeles Times.

Abbas will not be taking a damp squib to his fellow Palestinians back in Palestine. Nor will Hamas be able to say that Abbas was taken down the garden path by Olmert and Bush. The prospects for peace in the Middle East are very real.

Unfortunately the chances that the peace talks may be grounded on one of the myriad disputes surrounding the Middle East issue are still high.

The Annapolis agreement is about deciding to talk and make peace, but did not cover any of the substantive issues that divide Palestinians and Israelis. In this sense it is not a lot different from previous confidence building exercises, mediated by the Americans.

There are the issues of boundaries to be discussed, and fought over both at the negotiating table and on the ground. Will Jerusalem be partitioned or stay with Israel ? What will happen to the Israeli settlements once the new nation is formed ? Will Palestine be allowed to run its own defense ? Will Israel be recognized as a Jewish state or will the Palestinian diaspora demand the right to return ?

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Tuesday that he will not back down on his demand that East Jerusalem be named the capital of any future Palestinian state. Nor will he relent on his calls for Israel to dismantle its outposts in the West Bank, he said, according to this report in CNN.

These irksome issues have been pushed under the carpet for the grand-standing this week. For President Bush this is perhaps his last chance as President to prove his statesmanship, and win a Nobel Prize, as some wags put it. For Abbas it could be a matter of his own and Fatah’s survival that the negotiations succeed without him seeing to concede too much. As for the Israelis, they have to start delivering, rather than look for excuses to delay a resolution. There is a lot of hard work, and tough decisions for all three leaders in the days ahead.

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