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Israel, Palestinians Announce First Steps in Peace Process - 2003-06-04

Israel and the Palestinians have announced the first small steps in what could be a long, difficult peace process. They stood side-by-side on the grounds of a palace overlooking the Gulf of Aqaba. One by one, they pledged to work for peace.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas said it is time to bring all the suffering to an end. He vowed the Palestinians would do their part.

"The armed Intefada must end, and we must use and resort to peaceful means in our quest to end the occupation and the suffering of Palestinians and Israelis and to establish the Palestinian state," he said.

Establishment of a Palestinian state living in peace with Israel is the goal of the "road map," the new peace plan drafted by the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations. Both sides have endorsed the road map, though Israel has done so with conditions attached.

At the Aqaba summit, Israeli Prime Minister Sharon offered a first tentative step on the sensitive issue of settlements. He said he would dismantle Israeli outposts in the West Bank and Gaza set up without government approval.

"I want to reiterate that Israel is a society governed by the rule of law," he said. "Thus, we will immediately, begin to remove unauthorized outposts."

President Bush listened to the two prime ministers and said progress is being made.

"All here today now share a goal: the Holy Land must be shared between the state of Palestine and the state of Israel, living in peace with each other and with every nation in the Middle East," Mr. Bush said.

President Bush said all sides have made important commitments, and the United States will do all it can to help make the dream of peace a reality. He said he was ordering Secretary of State Colin Powell and his national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice to make the peace process a matter of the highest priority.

"The journey we are taking is difficult. But there is no other choice," he said.

The summit marked the first time in his presidency that Mr. Bush has held a joint meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. It was the second day of intense Middle East diplomacy for the president, following talks Tuesday in Egypt with Arab leaders.