Prior to his visit to Jerusalem, US President George W. Bush
topped off his trip to Israel and the Palestinian Authority
Thursday by setting a high bar for Israeli and Palestinian
leadership: peace by the end of 2008.
Prior to his arrival in Jerusalem, Bush had indicated that he
might settle for a common vision between Israel and the Palestinian
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, however, Bush said that he
believed the two sides would sign a peace deal by the end of this
"While territory is an issue for both parties to decide, I
believe that any peace agreement between them will require mutually
agreed adjustments to the armistice lines of 1949 to reflect
current realities and to ensure that the Palestinian state is
viable and contiguous," he said.
Bush's first visit to the country was hailed as a much-needed
push for the peace process, which has stalled on several key issues
since the U.S.-backed peace summit in Annapolis last November.
Despite promises by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to resume the Road Map, the two
leaders have disagreed on several key issues including Israeli
settlement expansion in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem.
Israeli settlements in the West Bank have been a perennial
stumbling block in the negotiations for a final status agreement.
Though the Israeli government has sworn to freeze all settlement
expansion, construction is ongoing through tenders issued in 2006
and the first quarter of 2007. Earlier this month, a number of
tenders were issued for Har Homa, a suburb of Jerusalem that is
officially over the Green Line that marks territories earmarked for
a future Palestinian state.
Bush took an unusually hard line towards Israeli settlements in
his visit, stressing that the establishment of a Palestinian state
was long overdue, and that Israel needed to end the occupation that
began in 1967.
Officials in Olmert's office said the prime minister was taking
the remarks to mean an end to all of Israeli settlements and
illegal outposts in the West Bank, while reaching a special
compromise on the city of Jerusalem.
Throughout Bush's stay in Israel, Olmert has made it clear that
the city of Jerusalem is a special case, and that no part of the
holy city will be handed back in the near future, said the
In order to reinforce his commitment to evacuating settlements
in the West Bank, Israeli security officials have announced that
they will evacuate up to nine illegal outposts in the coming
Right-wing members of Olmert's coalition appeared willing to
accept the outposts evacuation, in exchange for the government
commitment to maintaining a united front on the issue of
Abbas, meanwhile, reiterated his demand that Jerusalem be
established as a shared capital.
"Jerusalem as its capital and an end to the refugee problem, in
accordance with UN decisions," said Abbas. "The Palestinian people,
who are committed to peace, want to move freely in their country,
with no roadblocks, (separation) fence or settlements... We want to
see a different future, without thousands of prisoners in jail and
innocent deaths. We want to stop the closure."
Preliminary polls taken by Palestinian and Israeli media outlets
indicate that both populations are hesitant to express optimism
over the current peace process, with less than one-third of either
populations believing it possible that a peace agreement will be
reached by the end of 2008.
(Xinhua News Agency January 11, 2008)