India among 50 nations to find a way to Middle East peace

By Arun Kumar, IANS

Washington : A US-sponsored Middle East peace conference gets underway at Annapolis, Maryland, near here Tuesday with over 50 nations, including India, trying to find a way to bring about reconciliation between Israel and Palestine.

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India is being represented at the conference by Minister for Science and Technology Kapil Sibal, the Prime Minister’s special envoy for West Asia Chinmoy Gharekhan, and external affairs ministry joint secretary for West Asia and North Africa Manimekalai.

Participants in the conference include Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and members of the quartet – the United Nations, European Union, Russia and the US.

Also attending are members of the Arab League Follow-on Committee, the Group of Eight major industrialised nations, the permanent members of the UN Security Council, and other key international actors.

Washington has said the ultimate goal of the conference is the realisation of a Palestinian State, which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described as important to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in two ways — it solidifies the launch of peace negotiations and it brings together international support, especially from Arab nations.

For the US, the two elements are critical to each other and to achieving success, Rice said during a recent press round-table interview.

“I think that the success of this meeting is really in the launch of negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians for the establishment of a Palestinian state and, therefore, a two-state solution,” she said.

“This time we’ve tried to have Arab engagement and involvement all along the way. The Arabs are going to need to support this process and support it fully.”

“It’s a very big step forward to launch these negotiations, to launch them with international support and to make sure that they’re continuous and ongoing, and I hope very intensive,” she said. “So, that’s really the purpose of Annapolis.”

Rice said the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians needs to be resolved on its own terms rather than in a larger regional context — because the Israelis need a two-state solution for their security and the Palestinians need an independent state to achieve the normal development expected of any new nation.

Rice also praised Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for his continued efforts to bring about the talks. “He brings to this a bedrock commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state not born of violence and terrorism. And no one questions that he is someone who believes in a non-violent, negotiated solution,” Rice said.

While the Israelis and Palestinians have expressed the hope to conclude their talks within a year, before President Bush leaves office, there is no guarantee of that, Rice said.

“The Annapolis Conference will signal broad international support for the Israeli and Palestinian leaders’ courageous efforts and will be a launching point for negotiations leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state and the realization of Israeli-Palestinian peace,” according to State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

President Bush George W. Bush will address the delegates at a dinner hosted by Condoleezza Rice in Washington Monday.

The Israeli and Palestinian leaders will deliver speeches to open the formal conference at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis Tuesday.