Almost 60 years to the day that the United Nations announced the partition of the Holy Land into Arab and Jewish states, the leaders of Israel and Palestine met to discuss peace.
Along with President George Bush, and representatives from Arab nations, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President
Mahmoud Abbas convened in Annapolis to work out a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, according to The Associated Press.
Though the conference did not result in the binding agreement that some had hoped for, Abbas and Olmert did commit themselves to
negotiating a peace treaty by 2008.
In order to end the 60 year conflict, both sides pledged cooperation in resolving the issues that have been at the center of the argument.
According to The New York Times, this includes setting the borders of the Palestinian state, removal of Israeli settlements from the West Bank, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees who left or were forced out of Israel.
Despite its lack of specific details, the agreement is seen as an historic opportunity to end one of the most bitter conflicts in an already devastated region of the world.
“I am not making an overstatement,” began Abbas, “if I say that our region stands at a crossroad that separates two historical phases: pre-Annapolis phase and post-Annapolis phase.”
The major accomplishment of the conference was the public vow by Bush to oversee peace talks that the United States has not pursued in seven years, according to The AP.
“I wouldn’t be standing here if I didn’t believe that peace was possible,” the president said.
The conference was well-attended, with 44 nations gathering for the talks. Key Middle Eastern nations such as Saudi Arabia and Israel’s neighbor Syria were in attendance, lending credence to the talks.
One significant nation not on the list of invitees was Iran. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rebuked Arab nations, including Iranian ally Syria, for attending the conference, according to The AP. The meeting also led to protests by over 100,000 people in the Gaza Strip.
Many see the agreement as a favorable outcome to the conference. Mona Debaz, professor of political science at John Carroll University, said the Annapolis Conference “achieved more than expected,” and the most significant part is the influence of the United States as a “judge of compliance” with the agreement.
All parties involved also realize that this is but the beginning of a long and painful process. “We want peace,” Prime Minister Olmert said. “We demand an end to terror, an end to incitement and to hatred.
“We are prepared to make a painful compromise, rife with risks, in order to realize these aspirations.” Even Prince Saud al-Faisal, foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, with whom Israel has no diplomatic ties, and who refused to shake Prime Minister Olmert’s hand, recognized the importance of the agreement. “A great deal is riding on the success or failure of this undertaking,” he said. “The Arab-Israeli conflict has caused too much pain and suffering and too many lives have been lost.”
“There’s quite a lot that separates us,” Olmert said. “Nevertheless, there is also a great deal that we share.”
If this agreement is to come to fruition, all parties will have to focus on those things that they share.