Mideast Peace Conference Ends With Renewed Hope

By Yunji De Nies, ABC News | 

Despite advance reaction ranging from pessimism to skepticism , the one-day Mideast Peace Conference in Maryland seems to be ending with renewed hope .

In a cordial atmosphere, the Palestinian and Israeli leaders set a regular schedule for talks, promising to include even the most divisive issues.

Still, that means the hard work is yet to be done.

It is the first step on what could finally be the road to peace.

The leaders of Israel and the Palestinian authority have agreed to a framework for negotiations, with the goal of reaching a settlement by the end of next year.

"Achieving this goal will not be easy, if it were easy it would have happened a long time ago," stated Ehud Olmert, Israeli Prime Minister.

The United States will monitor the negotiations. Diplomats on both sides will address the issues that have divided them most: security, refugees, borders and Jerusalem.

The two leaders will meet every other week, and have vowed to work together.

"I believe that there is no just solution other than the solution of two national states. We stretch our hands to you as equal partners in peace. The whole world is our witness," said Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian President.

Representatives from nearly 50 countries, including Syria and Saudi Arabia, which have no diplomatic relations with Israel, endorsed the plan. Their support is critical, though it is clear that Annapolis, while a strong start, is just the beginning.

"We hope that the positive words will be matched by positive actions on the ground," added Abbas.

President Bush will have a joint meeting with President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert.

A senior White House official tells ABC News that the president hopes to make his first visit to the region some time next year.

After a series of closed-door meetings, the president will appear with the two leaders in the Rose Garden to, as the White House puts it, "inaugurate" the new round of Mideast peacemaking.

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