Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have agreed to start negotiations. Their goal is two states -- Israel and Palestine -- living side by side in peace. The first substantive discussions took place December 12th in Jerusalem.
The two sides agreed to revive peace talks at a conference sponsored by the United States in Annapolis, Maryland. Representatives from fifty countries and international organizations, including sixteen Arab states, attended. President George W. Bush said that the goal of two democratic states – Israel and Palestine living in peace -- cannot be achieved without the commitment of many nations:
“Our job is to encourage the parties in this effort – and to give them the support they need to succeed.”
One country that has made it clear it opposes the efforts of the Palestinian and Israeli leaders is Iran. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the Annapolis summit a “failure.” U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says that Mr. Ahmadinejad’s reaction is not surprising:
”He understands, as well as others who try to use violent extremism to further their goals, if you will, they understand that helping to bring peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, helping to bring about a democratic Palestine where the Palestinian people have a prospect of being able to better define their future, better define a prosperous future for themselves, that is anathema to the kinds of tactics and the goals that people like President Ahmadinejad and those people who use violent extremism – Hamas and Hezbollah -- have. They understand the kind of threat that this effort poses to what they want to try to accomplish in the Middle East, so it’s no surprise that they are going to criticize it.”
President Bush says that the world should not “cede victory to the extremists” in the Middle East, but work toward the day “when the terrorists and extremists who threaten the Israeli and Palestinian people will be marginalized and eventually defeated.”