Mideast Negotiators Vow Talks Will Go On
Monday, November 10, 2008
SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt, Nov. 9 -- Israeli, Palestinian and international negotiators pledged Sunday to continue peace talks launched last year by President Bush, even though the quest for peace will certainly outlast his administration.
But future talks will be held in an increasingly uncertain terrain, with the prospect of a hawk coming to power in Israel's parliamentary elections in February and deeply divided Palestinian factions controlling the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It is also unclear how high Mideast peacemaking will figure on President-elect Barack Obama's agenda.
Despite the impending failure to meet the target date of year's end, set at a peace conference in Annapolis last November, Israel and the Palestinians affirmed their commitment to the process.
The chief negotiators "asked that the international community support the parties' sustained efforts in the framework of the Annapolis process," the international diplomatic quartet of Mideast peacemakers said after several hours of talks at this Egyptian Red Sea resort.
At the same time, the Quartet -- the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia -- said in a statement that it "emphasized the importance of continuity of the peace process."
"I believe that the Annapolis process is now the international community's answer, and the parties' answer, to how we finally end the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters after the talks.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called Sunday's meeting a positive step toward making the peace process irreversible. But he also said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, had warned Israel that the next few months were sensitive.
"Abu Mazen has warned against the possibility of Israel using this transition period in Israel and the U.S. to accelerate settlement activity and attacks and incursions," Erekat said.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Isreal's chief peace negotiator, is running evenly with hawkish former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu in polls to become the next prime minister.
Netanyahu's spokeswoman, Dina Libster, indicated Sunday that he would not continue the Annapolis process if he won.
"The process as it has been until now is not helpful, and there is no point in continuing with it," she said. "We are talking with a side that has no power to put into effect an agreement," referring to the split between the main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas.
Abbas, who leads Fatah and governs the West Bank, has been negotiating with Israel. But the militant Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in June 2007, does not support the peace efforts.
It is also unclear whether Obama will prioritize the Mideast peace process, at a time when he must handle an economy in crisis and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Quartet envoy Tony Blair urged Obama on Sunday to carry on with the process, saying, "The single most important thing is that the new administration in the United States grips this issue from Day One."