WASHINGTON (AP) – President George W. Bush and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas will assess in a meeting Friday the stalled U.S.-backed negotiations with Israel that will almost certainly fail to meet a year-end deadline for a peace deal.
In what is likely their last face-to-face talks before Bush leaves office next month, Bush and Abbas are to meet days after the U.N. Security Council endorsed the administration’s Annapolis peace process. The president launched the signature initiative on Mideast relations with Abbas and outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in November 2007.
Bush had his final meeting with Olmert last month. The White House says Bush wants to discuss developments in the process as well as efforts to assist the Palestinians with preparations for eventual statehood, including building institutions of governance, boosting economic development and training and deploying Palestinian security forces.
Ahead of the meeting, Abbas had scheduled a working dinner Thursday with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The secretary has said she believes the Annapolis process is the best way to seal a long- elusive peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, and she has encouraged President-elect Barack Obama’s incoming administration to carry it forward. “The secretary has committed to continue to work on this process” until Obama and his team take over on Jan. 20, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Thursday. “It is still … worth continuing to work on this effort to continue to try to make progress,” he said, adding, however that “the next administration is going to have to decide how it deals with this issue, to what extent it uses or doesn’t use the Annapolis process that’s in place.”
There has been speculation that Obama’s team, which includes members of former President Bill Clinton’s administration who worked closely on Mideast issues, may want to adopt a new strategy in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. However, Obama’s choice for national security adviser, retired Marine Corps Gen. James Jones, has been involved in the Annapolis process, overseeing elements of Palestinian security arrangements in the West Bank.
Bush launched the process at a Mideast peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland, in November 2007. During the meetings, Abbas and Olmert agreed to try to clinch a deal by the end of this year.
But ongoing violence, the situation in Gaza, which is controlled by the militant Hamas group, and internal political developments in Israel have made the deadline unreachable.
Instead, the Bush administration has tried to lock in the Annapolis process by enshrining it in the international system and public consciousness. This week, Rice attended a U.N. Security Council meeting at which the panel endorsed the process as irreversible and urged the two parties to continue talking under its guidelines.
“There can be no turning back the clock,” Rice told the council. “We have to continue on the chosen path.”
The resolution declared the council’s support for the negotiations initiated at Annapolis, saying it backs Israelis and Palestinians in the “determined efforts to reach their goal of concluding a peace treaty resolving all outstanding issues, including all core issues, without exception.”
The sides have failed to bridge disagreements over the so-called core issues, including their final borders and the competing claims to the holy city of Jerusalem.