SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt – Israelis and Palestinians reaffirmed their commitment Sunday to the peace process launched last year at a high-profile conference hosted by U.S. President George W. Bush.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said they have agreed with international Mideast mediators on the need for continued negotiations to reach a comprehensive agreement as outlined at last November's meeting in Annapolis, Maryland.
Abbas and Livni also asked for continued international support for the peace process in a statement issued Sunday following a meeting of the Quartet, which includes the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia.
Abbas and Livni "asked that the international community support the parties
sustained efforts in the framework of the Annapolis process and that it respect the agreed principles for their negotiations as described to the Quartet," said the statement.
The Annapolis process sets out a multi-pronged approach to achieving peace that includes building up Palestinian institutions in anticipation of the creation of an independent Palestine.
Members of the Quartet echoed their support for the process in a press conference following their meeting.
"I believe that the Annapolis process is now the international community's answer and the parties' answer to how we finally end the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis," said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Rice headed into Sunday's meeting after three days of talks in Israel and the Palestinian territories during which she acknowledged that the year-end deadline pushed by Bush could not be met due to political uncertainty in Israel.
"Our common desire is to make sure the Annapolis process succeeds," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Before the meeting began, Livni told Israeli Army Radio that her goal at the meeting was to keep the pressure off Israel as elections approach.
She said she believes that if mediators see Israel is serious about an agreement with the Palestinians, they will not pressure the Jewish state about deadlines or the specifics of the negotiations right now.
Israel is scheduled to hold parliamentary elections Feb. 10, and polls show that Livni, the chief Israeli negotiator, is neck and neck with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposes negotiations with the Palestinians at this point.
In their statement, the Quartet emphasized the importance of continuing the negotiations regardless of leadership changes.
"The Quartet ... underlined its commitment to the irreversibility of the bilateral negotiations," said the statement.
An Israeli government official said Sunday that Israel "absolutely" wants to continue the process begun at last November's Mideast peace conference hosted by Bush in Annapolis, Maryland.
But the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because talks are confidential, said Israel would not release details on the talks because of the politically sensitive time.
International mediators also stressed Sunday the importance of continuing the peace process after U.S. President-elect Barack Obama takes office at the end of January.
"The single most important thing is that the new administration in the United States grips this issue from day one and it can do so doing that there is a foundation upon which we can build," said Mideast peace envoy Tony Blair.