|President Bush walks with Ehud Olmert, left, and Mahmoud Abbas to the conference at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis|
Tuesday's Middle East conference in Annapolis, Maryland, put Israelis and Palestinians back on the road map to peace. Now the question is, how far will they get?
The "road map" is the name for a plan that is supposed to lead to a permanent, two-state solution to the conflict. The Quartet of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations launched the plan in two thousand three. The plan did not go far.
But this week Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed to immediately restart negotiations. They promise to seek a peace treaty that furthers the goal of an independent Palestine.
The two sides have not held serious negotiations in seven years. A committee that will guide the talks will hold its first meeting December twelfth. The aim is to reach an agreement by the end of next year.
Many Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia and Syria, attended the international conference held by the United States. Iran was not invited.
President Bush said in Annapolis that the United States will be actively involved in the peace process. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice named retired general James Jones as her new special diplomat for Middle East security. He will work with Israelis and Palestinians.
But the Palestinians are split politically and physically. The Islamic Hamas movement seized control of Gaza in June. Mister Abbas' Fatah party holds power in the West Bank, which has a larger population.
The main issues between Israel and the Palestinians include final borders and the right of return for refugees. But the most divisive issue may be the future of Jerusalem.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a Palestinian state. Prime Minister Olmert recently said he is ready to hand over some Arab neighborhoods in that part of the city. But he faces opposition from those who want to keep an undivided Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Israel captured East Jerusalem, including the Old City, in the nineteen sixty-seven Arab-Israeli war. About four hundred fifty thousand Israelis live in East Jerusalem and nearby settlements on the West Bank.
Israel was established in nineteen forty-eight under a United Nations plan to divide the area into Arab and Jewish states. Arab nations rejected the plan and invaded Israel a day after its independence.
Carnegie scholar Eric Davis is a political science professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He says the most important thing that must come out of Annapolis is a real plan where both sides begin to compromise.
He notes concerns that Mister Olmert and Mister Abbas do not hold enough political power to make compromises that would keep the talks moving. Without strong support, he says, the chance exists that their enemies could try to block the road to peace.
And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. I’m Steve Ember.