The U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., is the site of the Middle East peace summit this week (Photo: Carrie Devorah)
JERUSALEM – President Bush told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a private meeting today the U.S. will ensure the Palestinians will have a state on the ground before Bush leaves office, a senior Palestinian negotiator told WND.
“Bush and the U.S. administration gave us a commitment there will be a Palestinian state before he leaves office, and not just an outline of a state on paper but contiguous territory on the ground,” said the Palestinian negotiator, who spoke on condition his name be withheld because he was revealing the contents of a private meeting.
“Bush said he is committed to seeing an Israeli withdrawal from most of the West Bank,” the negotiator said.
Bush met separately today with Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ahead of tomorrow’s U.S.-sponsored Annapolis summit at which the Israeli and Palestinian teams are slated to present a joint declaration widely expected to outline a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and eastern sections of Jerusalem.
After holding private meetings with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Bush told reporters at a press conference he was “optimistic” tomorrow’s summit would be successful.
“We want to help [Abbas]. We want there to be peace. We want the people in the Palestinian territories to have hope,” said Bush after his meeting with the Palestinian leader.
Abbas later told a news conference he has “a great deal of hope that this conference will produce permanent status negotiations, expanded negotiations, over all permanent status issues that would lead to a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian people.”
“This is a great initiative and we need [Bush’s] continuing effort to achieve this objective,” said Abbas.
In what has been described by some media outlets as a diplomatic coup for Bush, the governments of Syria, Saudi Arabia and dozens of other Arab states are sending senior representatives to tomorrow’s summit.
WND reported yesterday that according to top diplomatic sources in Jerusalem, in exchange for Saudi Arabia attending the Annapolis conference, the Israeli government agreed to recognize the importance of a Saudi-sponsored “peace initiative” in which the Jewish state is called upon to evacuate the strategic Golan Heights, the entire West Bank and eastern sections of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.
While Israel doesn’t commit itself to the Saudi-backed Arab Peace Initiative’s requirements, a clause in the current draft of the Israeli-Palestinian declaration slated for the Annapolis conference and obtained by WND reads: “We recognize the critical supporting role of Arab and Muslim states and the importance of the Arab Peace Initiative.”
As well, Syria reportedly agreed to attend Annapolis after Damascus received American and Israeli commitments the Golan Heights would be put on the table at the Israeli-Palestinian conference.
The Golan Heights is strategic mountainous territory that looks down on Israeli population centers and twice was used by Syria to launch ground invasions into the Jewish state.
While Israel is not expected to commit itself to evacuating the Golan Heights at Annapolis, the mere mentioning of the strategic territory at the international summit could serve to put the issue back on the bargaining table.
Syria is in a military alliance with Iran and is accused by the U.S. of supporting the insurgency in Iraq and generating instability in Lebanon. Israel says Syria regularly ships Iranian rockets and weaponry to the Lebanese Hezbollah militia. The chiefs of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad Palestinian terror groups are based in Damascus. Syria is also accused by Israel of holding Israeli soldiers missing in action, including Brooklyn-born Zachary Baumel, who was captured by Syrian forces 23 years ago.
Syria was invited to the summit without any preconditions or pledges to cease its purported backing of terrorism or its alleged meddling in Lebanese affairs.
To interview Aaron Klein, contact Tim Bueler Public Relations by e-mail, or call (530) 401-3285.