The Palestinians expect a state in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and eastern sections of Jerusalem, said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at today’s Annapolis summit.
During the U.S.-backed international conference, President Bush read a joint Israeli-Palestinian declaration in which both countries agreed to create a Palestinian state on the ground before Bush leaves office in January 2009.
The declaration did not recognize Israel as a Jewish state in spite of intense negotiations the past few weeks for the Palestinians to agree to such a clause.
The joint Israeli-Palestinian statement committed Israel and the PA to hold final status talks on “all issues” – meaning the status of Jerusalem and the future of millions of Arabs registered as refugees living in U.N.-maintained camps.
Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert are to meet biweekly, with implementation of commitments monitored by the U.S., according to the declaration.
After Bush’s address, Abbas called for a Palestinian state to be established with its capital in Jerusalem.
He alluded to Palestinian control over the Temple Mount – Judaism’s holiest site.
“We need east Jerusalem to be our capital and to access our holy shrines,” said Abbas.
The Palestinian leader requested Israel immediately allow the PA to open official institutions in Jerusalem as a sign the city would serve as the future Palestinian capital.
In line with previous Israeli-Palestinian accords, the PA until now has been barred from conducting political activity in Jerusalem, although it maintained an office, called Orient House, in an eastern Jerusalem neighborhood that previously functioned as a de facto PA headquarters
Orient House was closed by Israel in 2001 following a series of suicide bombings in Jerusalem and information Israel said indicated it was used to plan and fund terrorism. Thousands of documents and copies of bank certificates and checks captured by Israel from Orient House – including many documents obtained by WND – showed the offices were used to finance terrorism, including direct payments to the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terror group.
Following Abbas’ speech, Olmert affirmed Israel would work to create a Palestinian state by 2008 and would negotiate on “all core issues.”
He also recognized the importance of a Saudi-backed plan – termed the Arab Peace Initiative – widely criticized here as leaving Israel with truncated, indefensible borders. The plan, among other things, calls for Israel to give up the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.
“I am familiar with the Arab Peace Initiative. I value this initiative and acknowledge its importance,” said Olmert.
WND first broke the story last week that in exchange for Saudi Arabia attending the Annapolis summit, the Israeli government agreed to recognize the importance of the Arab 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.
Olmert also said previous peace negotiations would be used as a basis for talks that begin as soon as tomorrow, a hint that pledges by former Israeli leaders are still on the table.
In the summer of 2000, then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak was willing to cede the entire West Bank, Gaza Strip and eastern Jerusalem, reportedly including the Temple Mount.
Today’s summit was particularly notable for the presence of Saudi Arabia and Syria, two countries that until now refused direct relations with Israel.
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.
Today’s speeches by Bush, Olmert and Abbas are followed by a larger session in which with foreign ministers of several Arab countries, including Syria and Saudi Arabia, present their views.
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