Palestinians attempt with peace with Israel

RAMALLAH, West Bank – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said yesterday that all sides want to reach a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians before President Bush leaves office, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice welcomed what could be the start of the first serious bargaining in seven years.

Abbas said he has received encouraging signs from Israel and from the U.S., which would act as a broker for any comprehensive settlement of the six-decade-old conflict. He gave no details.

A settlement is a top priority for the Bush administration for the remaining 14 months of Bush’s term, and Rice was encouraged by what she called solid commitment from the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to bear down for what would be difficult negotiations on the final terms of a Palestinian state.

“I agree with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that there is a real possibility to achieve peace, and I want to reiterate that we are serious about using this opportunity to reach this historical peace,” Abbas said following a meeting with Rice.

It marks the first time the two leaders have publicly pledged to work together under even a loose deadline.

Israeli leader Olmert had said Sunday that vigorous peace negotiations could go far toward establishing an independent Palestinian state before Bush leaves office.

He pledged continuous negotiations following a U.S.-sponsored peace conference later this year, which both Abbas and Rice agreed yesterday would be the goal. Bush intends the meeting to launch formal peace negotiations, which broke down amid violence seven years ago.

“I’m quite confident that the will is there on both sides that people want to end this conflict,” a smiling Rice said. Israel and the Palestinians were “moving toward an understanding” that a U.S.-sponsored conference can be a forum to restart long-stalled peace talks, she said.

Rice also met yesterday with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Ahmed Qureia, the Palestinians’ chief negotiator working with Israel to draft a blueprint for future peace talks.