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Just a few weeks ago, President Bush and Secretary of State Rice hosted an international conference at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. The conference focused on supporting the efforts of Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Abbas on their road to peace.
In addition to the Israeli and Palestinian Authority leaders, over 40 other countries sent key government representatives to Annapolis to participate in the first Middle East peace conference in seven years. This was a tremendous international display of support for the goal of creating two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace.
President Bush opened the Conference by reading a statement that set the tone for the peace talks. In the statement both Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas declared that they "express our determination to bring an end to bloodshed, suffering and decades of conflict between our peoples; to usher in a new era of peace, based on freedom, security, justice, dignity, respect and mutual recognition; to propagate a culture of peace and nonviolence; to confront terrorism and incitement, whether committed by Palestinians or Israelis. In furtherance of the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security, we agree to immediately launch good-faith bilateral negotiations in order to conclude a peace treaty, resolving all outstanding issues, including all core issues, without exception, as specified in previous agreements."
At the conclusion of the one day conference, both parties once again pledged to take steps toward establishing a Palestinian state and ending the violence between the Palestinian and Israeli peoples. Both sides agreed to resume regular peace talks, meeting on a bi-weekly basis, and to reach a peace agreement by the end of 2008.
Without a doubt, the road to Middle East peace will be long and bumpy. Ultimately, a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine will be an impossibility with groups like Hamas operating unchecked. These extremists are actively working to undermine every attempt at peace and reconciliation in this region. The Palestinian Authority, along with neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan, must take the necessary steps to stem the violence--by cutting off the finances that are the lifeblood of these organizations and cracking down on their murderous activities.
The Middle East is an area rich in a history marked by long-standing hatreds and disputed land claims. While the quest for peace is daunting important steps were taken last month in Annapolis. We must remain steadfast in our pursuit of Middle East peace, for we have a vested interest in trying to stop the terrorist violence that occurs regularly in this volatile region and we must ensure that these critical first steps toward peace were not in vain.