Annapolis sets framework, challenge remains in implementation

The joint understanding reached by Palestinian and Israeli officials and presented at the Annapolis Middle East peace conference today sets a solid framework for a negotiating process, but the challenge remains in the implementation of the specifics.

The statement, read by U.S. President George W. Bush, incorporates the required points for a solid foundation to launch talks, mainly the immediate start of negotiations to resolve "all outstanding issues, including all core issues without exception." Without exception means that the fate of Palestinian refugees as well as East Jerusalem and illegal Jewish settlements will be addressed. The joint understanding also provides a timeline for negotiations-12 December 2007 as a start date and December 2008 as a target end date for a final agreement.

While reaching a joint understanding on a general framework was a trying task for the two sides, the real test is in the implementation of the specifics. How will the sides resolve the issue of illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory? How will the Palestinian refugee issue be settled? What will be the borders of the Palestinian state? Today’s remarks by Bush, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert provide some insight on how the sides may differ on the interpretation and implementation of the final status issues.

Bush stated that Israel must "show the world that they are ready to begin-to bring an end to the occupation that began in 1967 and an end to settlement expansion." To Palestinians, this translates to the establishment of a Palestinian state on the territory marked by the 1949 armistice lines and sovereignty over all that is within it. However, Olmert pointed to Bush’s 2004 letter to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon which states that "In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations be a full return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion."

While President Abbas stated that the settlement of the Palestinian refugee issue will be based on U.N. Resolution 194, Olmert reiterated that Israel is a Jewish state and that it will be part of an international effort to resettle Palestinian refugees in a Palestinian state.

Now that the both sides, with Arab and international support, have officially resumed talks that have been stalled for years, the real test is in reaching an understanding on and the implementation of the core issues that uphold Palestinian rights and international law.