CBSN

On The Road To Mideast Peace?

President Bush, center, meets with Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, left, and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to finalize the road map to peace at Beit al Bahar Palace in the Jordanian Red Sea resort of Aqaba, June 4, 2003. With support from top Arab leaders promised, Bush said there can now be steady progress toward Palestinian statehood and a secure Israel.
AP
At a Mideast peace summit convened by President Bush, the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers promised Wednesday to take real, if limited, steps toward ending their bloody conflict.

Israeli Prime Minister Sharon promised to immediately begin dismantling unauthorized Jewish outposts on the West Bank, while Palestinian Prome Minister Mahmod Abbas explicitly asserted that the "armed intefadeh must end," referring to the Palestinians' 32-month uprising against Israel.

"Our goal is clear and we will implement it firmly and without compromise: a complete end to violence and terrorism," Abbas promised.

Sharon and Abbas stood alongside President Bush and Jordan's King Abdullah II at matching lecterns set up at the monarch's summer palace on the Gulf of Aqaba. "Good job," Mr. Bush quietly remarked as each prime minister completed his address.

Striving for a powerful image, the White House built a bridge in the desert oasis, spanning King Abdullah's pool as a metaphor for the transition into a peaceful future.

But, reports CBS News Correspondent John Roberts, photo ops are one thing, bridging decades of mistrust and hostility is a project that has collapsed every time – and may again. The very moment Abbas pledged to rein in terrorists, leading terrorist group Hamas declared it would not lay down its arms.

As for Sharon's pledge to "immediately" dismantle illegal settlements, Israeli officials concede it is merely a "symbolic move." Left out of Sharon's remarks was a declaration that he will only accept an interim Palestinian state if it is "demilitarized" – a condition the Palestinians will likely reject.

Mr. Bush told reporters later he was cautious about how his peace "road map" would play out because past peace efforts have failed, most notably the collapse of an initiative by Bill Clinton at the end of his presidency.

"I'm the master of low expectations," Mr. Bush said. "We accomplished what I hoped we'd accomplish."

The summit, marking Mr. Bush's biggest step into Mideast peacemaking, revived optimism in a region seething with suspicion and skepticism aggravated by the U.S.-led war against Iraq.

Sharon's government already had accepted the peace plan in principle despite deep reservations, and Abbas already had pledged to crack down on violence.

Mr. Bush welcomed Sharon's public commitment that "we will immediately begin to remove unauthorized outposts," a painful step for the prime minister since he is an architect of Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The president, flying to Qatar later, told reporters, "He said he would dismantle them. We now expect him to dismantle them."

The issue of Israeli outposts and settlements is one of the most divisive points of contention between Israel and the Palestinians. As for whether Sharon's promise went far enough, Secretary of State Colin Powell said, "It's a good start. It will show to the Palestinian people and to the world that Israel is prepared to do things that they were not prepared to do before this meeting."

Without their government's approval, Israeli settlers have placed trailers or tents on hilltops, some next to existing settlements, in Palestinian areas. The unauthorized outposts intensified the Palestinians' conflict with Israel during which more than 750 Israelis have died, including about 350 from suicide bombings. During the same period, more than 2,350 Palestinians have been killed.

Abbas spoke of the suffering of the Palestinians at the hands of Israel, but went on to say, "We do not ignore the suffering of the Jews throughout history. It is time to bring all this suffering to an end."

"Some amazing things were said," Mr. Bush remarked later. "The prime minister of the Palestinian Authority talked about the suffering of the Jewish people. The prime minister of Israel talked about a Palestinian state."

Mr. Bush said he had assured Abbas that the United States and other countries would send aid to help Palestinians build their security forces to combat terrorism and strengthen the economy.

As a first step, the United States is sending a team of monitors to the Mideast to help carry out the peace plan and keep the parties engaged. The group will be led by a veteran Foreign Service officer, John Wolf, the assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation.

Jordan was the next-to-last stop on Mr. Bush's weeklong trip to Europe and the Mideast. He returns to Washington Thursday after visiting U.S. troops in Qatar at the forward U.S. command post for the Iraq war.