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Israeli PM: Tough Choices Ahead in Mideast Peace Process

Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed to restart peace talks at a Maryland summit Tuesday, promising further negotiations toward a peace treaty and the development of a Palestinian state. Gwen Ifill talks to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert about the U.S.-backed talks and the Mideast peace process.

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    Even as President Bush announced the Israelis and Palestinians would immediately resume their long-stalled negotiations, he acknowledged the path to peace would be challenging.

    GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: Today, Palestinian and Israelis each understand that helping the other to realize their aspirations is key to realizing their own aspirations. Both require an independent, democratic, viable Palestinian state.

    Such a state will provide Palestinians with a chance to lead lives of freedom and purpose and dignity. Such a state will help provide the Israelis with something they have been seeking for generations: to live in peace with their neighbors.

    Achieving this goal is not going to be easy. If it were easy, it would have happened a long time ago.


    The last effort by an American president to bring about a resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict collapsed seven years ago at Camp David and was followed by an upsurge of violence in the region.

    Today, President Bush, with one year left in office, inserted himself into the peace process, hosting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and leaders and diplomats from more than 40 other nations at the U.S. Naval Academy.


    Our purpose here in Annapolis is not to conclude an agreement. Rather, it's to launch negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. For the rest of us, our job is to encourage the parties in this effort and to give them the support they need to succeed.

    In light of recent developments, some have suggested that now is not the right time to pursue peace. I disagree. I believe now is precisely the right time to begin these negotiations for a number of reasons.


    The president went on to say Abbas and Olmert both understood why they need to move now.


    The United States is proud to host this meeting, and we reaffirm the path to peace set out in the road map. Yet, in the end, the outcome of the negotiations they launch here depends on the Israelis and Palestinians themselves. America will do everything in our power to support their quest for peace, but we cannot achieve it for them.


    Palestinian President Abbas then offered some of his conditions for peace.

  • MAHMOUD ABBAS, President, Palestinian Authority (through translator):

    I must defend, in all sincerity and candor and without wavering, the right of our people to see a new dawn without occupation, without settlement, without separation walls, without prisons where thousands of prisoners are detained, without assassinations, without siege, without barriers around villages and mosques.


    Abbas then spoke directly to Israelis.


    I say to the citizens of Israel, in this extraordinary day, you are our neighbors on this small land. Neither us nor you are begging for peace from each other; it is a common interest for us and for you. The peace and freedom is a right for us, inasmuch as peace and security is a right for you and for us.


    For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert addressed Arab leaders.

    EHUD OLMERT, Prime Minister of Israel (through translator): Anyone who wants to make peace with us, we say to them from the bottom of our hearts, "Welcome." We cannot continue to stand by indefinitely and to watch you standing and watching from the sidelines, watching the peace train, as it were, going by.

    The time has come to end the boycott, the alienation, and the obliviousness towards the state of Israel. It does not help you, and it hurts us.


    The first Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are planned for December 12th and are to continue every two weeks after that.


    This afternoon, Gwen Ifill interviewed Israeli Prime Minister Olmert. Tomorrow, she'll talk with the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat. She spoke with Olmert at his Washington hotel.