Olemert, Abbas optimistic on eve of talks

Times:

Israeli and Palestinian leaders appeared close to a breakthrough last night in efforts to kick-start the Middle East peace process.

As President Bush opened a three-day summit in Washington, Israel and the Palestinians said that they were near agreement on a joint document outlining the terms of new negotiations. The document, which the parties had previously failed to agree, could trigger within days the first formal peace talks between two sides for seven years.

Yesterday Mr Bush held separate White House talks with Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President. According to White House press secretary Dana Perino, he called on them to “seize the moment.”

“He said history is full of missed opportunities because people just looked to the downside,” she said.

The summit, which aims to lay the ground for new talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, is being attended by nearly 50 countries, including a record 17 Arab nations. Both Syria and Saudi Arabia are present — the first time Saudi officials have sat with Israelis to talk about peace in the Middle East.

Mr Bush, who says he is “personally committed” to resolving the conflict, told Mr Olmert before their meeting: “I’m looking forward to continuing our serious dialogue with you and the President of the Palestinian Authority to see whether or not peace is possible. I’m optimistic.”

Mr Olmert said: “We and the Palestinians will sit together in Jerusalem and work out something that will be very good.” Later, before his meeting with Mr Bush, Mr Abbas said: “We have hope that this conference will produce negotiations . . . that will lead to a peace agreement.”

...

The real question is whether the Palestinians can live up to any agreement they enter with Israel. Is the PA ready to go to war with Hamas and the other factions to stop their attacks on Israel? If not Israel has gotten nothing from its bargain. Right now Hamas is worried about Israel wiping them out. Perhaps that is an area of agreement already between Israel and the Palestinian authority.

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