Source: The Boston Globe
After seven years without progress toward Mideast peace, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday pledged to launch immediate negotiations aimed at creating a Palestinian state by the end of next year.
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They made the announcement at the start of a Mideast peace conference at the US Naval Academy, hosted by President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and attended by delegates from more than 50 countries and global institutions.
US officials expressed hope the negotiations would lead to a historic breakthrough, though they were reluctant to make any predictions, warning that talks would be extremely difficult and that major concessions would be required of both parties.
Olmert, speaking in Hebrew during the announcement ceremony, said Israelis are "not indifferent" to the suffering of the Palestinian people and suggested that it was inevitable that Israel would give back much of the Palestinian land captured in 1967.
"I know it," he said. "Many of my people know it. We are ready for it."
Abbas followed by addressing the Israeli people in Arabic, saying: "We stretch our hands to you as equal partners in peace . . . We should not lose this opportunity, which might not be available once again."
But beyond the strong emotional statements - and a warm, lingering handshake on stage - there were few hints of agreement on substance, even after months of informal, face-to-face talks between the two men.