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Israel Lowers Expectations for Peace Deal by End of 2008

There were high hopes for peace in the Middle East after last week's summit in Annapolis, Maryland. But now, the mood is not as optimistic. Ehud Olmert tells his Cabinet that Israel is not obligated to conclude a peace deal with the Palestinians by the end of 2008. Robert Berger reports from the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

The Annapolis conference set a goal of reaching a final peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians by the end of next year. But Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is lowering expectations.

Mr. Olmert told the Cabinet that that while Israel will make every effort to hold speedy negotiations, there is no commitment to a firm timetable.

He said there could be no peace agreement until the Palestinians carry out their commitments under the internationally-backed "Road Map" peace plan and crack down on terrorist groups.

But Cabinet Minister Rafi Eitan doubts Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will do that.

Eitan says he expects Palestinian terror to continue for decades.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says his side is ready to keep its commitments under the Road Map. And with regard to reaching a peace agreement by the end of next year, he said, "where there is a will, there is a way."

"And I hope that our leaders will take the decisions required to achieve the historic treaty, that is needed for Palestinians and Israelis in order to establish the two-state solution," said Erekat.

In a goodwill gesture to President Abbas, Israel plans to release 429 Palestinian security prisoners on Monday.