As Israelis, Palestinians head to Annapolis, Syrians sign up
The promised attendance of many of Israel's Arab neighbors is good news, though it's unclear their presence will translate into progress at peace talks.
President Bush will preside at a dinner on Monday night in Annapolis, Md., that will mark the beginning of the first major international peace efforts between Israelis and Palestinians since the Clinton administration.Skip to next paragraph
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The Associated Press reports that Bush is scheduled to make a speech that reiterates his support for the peace process, but that is unlikely to contain any new proposals. Both the Israeli government and the negotiators aligned with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas have sought to lower expectations for the meeting.
(Bush will) make clear that Mideast peace is a top priority for the rest of his time in office through January 2009, but he is not expected to advance any of his own ideas on how to achieve that, Bush national security adviser Stephen Hadley said Sunday.
Clinching a joint statement of objectives from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert might prove to be an impossibly tall order because of the charged issues that divide the two sides. On more than one occasion, negotiations have splintered over the key questions of Palestinian statehood — final borders, sovereignty over disputed Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees who lost homes in Israel following its 1948 creation.
If the two sides can't even manage to come up with a shared statement of objectives, that could augur ill for the future of peace talks, which are to be renewed after seven years of still-simmering violence.
"We're confident there will be a document and we'll get to Annapolis in good shape on that," but bargaining may continue behind the scenes on Tuesday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
One piece of good news for the conference has been the promised attendance of more than 40 nations, many of them Israel's Arab neighbors. Saudi Arabia will be sitting down to discuss the Palestinian question with Israel for the first time, and Syria will also attend in the hopes of pressing its claims to the Golan Heights, a disputed territory Israel seized in the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict.
The British Broadcasting Corp. reports that though Syria will attend, it seems unlikely that any major overtures will be made about the Golan.
Damascus had previously said it would not attend the conference unless the Golan Heights were on the agenda.
It is by no means clear to what extent the Golan will indeed be up for negotiation in Annapolis, the BBC's Joe Floto in Jerusalem says. Correspondents say Syria's decision to send a deputy minister - rather than the foreign minister like other Arab states - may be due to this uncertainty.
Sources within the Israeli delegation say the issue of the Golan Heights will not appear on the main agenda. But they have suggested the territory could still be discussed.