(CBS/AP) Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed Tuesday to immediately resume long-stalled peace talks with the aim of creating an independent Palestinian state by the end of next year.
A joint statement read by President Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pledged to start next month the first serious and substantive negotiations in seven years.
"We express our determination to bring an end to bloodshed, suffering and decades of conflict between our peoples; to usher in a new era of peace, based on freedom, security, justice, dignity, respect and mutual recognition; to propagate a culture of peace and nonviolence; to confront terrorism and incitement, whether committed by Palestinians or Israelis," the statement said.
"We agree to immediately launch good-faith bilateral negotiations in order to conclude a peace treaty resolving all outstanding issues, including all core issues without exception, as specified in previous agreements," it continued. "We agree to engage in vigorous, ongoing and continuous negotiations and shall make every effort to conclude an agreement before the end of 2008."
The agreement was reached after weeks of intense negotiations and it was not clear until Mr. Bush stepped to the podium in the majestic Memorial Hall at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., that the two sides would come together on how to move forward on the path toward peace.
The first peace talks are to be held Dec. 12, Mr. Bush said, and are to continue biweekly after that.
Mr. Bush was followed by President Abbas, who made an impassioned appeal to Israelis to support the peace process, saying that war and terrorism "belong to the past."
"Neither we nor you must beg for peace from the other. It is a joint interest for us and you," he said. "Peace and freedom is a right for us, just as peace and security is a right for you and us."
"It is time for the circle of blood, violence and occupation to end. It is time for us to look at the future together with confidence and hope. It is time for this tortured land that has been called the land of love and peace to live up to its name," Abbas said.
Next up, Prime Minister Olmert promised that "the negotiations will address all the issues which thus far have been evaded."
"We will not avoid any subject," he said. "While this will be an extremely difficult process for many of us, it is nevertheless inevitable. I know it. Many of my people know it. We are ready for it."
Speaking directly to the Arabs at the conference, he said: "It is time to end the boycott and alienation toward the state of Israel," referring to Arab nations who do not have relations with Israel.
"We no longer and you no longer have the privilege of clinging to dreams which are disconnected from the suffering of our peoples," he said.