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Bush Shows Confidence in Negotiations, but Challenges Remain

Bush Shows Confidence in Negotiations, but Challenges RemainThe United States faces numerous challenges abroad looking ahead into 2008. On the diplomatic front few loom larger then Israeli-Palestinian relations. In December, the Annapolis Conference opened the door for direct negotiations, with the United States and the international community urging for progress on the sidelines.

President Bush landed in Israel earlier this week in an effort to bring negotiations back into the forefront. At a press conference today, Bush, exuding confidence in both Olmert and Abbas stated "I believe it's possible – not only possible, I believe it's going to happen – that there be a signed peace treaty by the time I leave office. That's what I believe.” A bold statement from a President who was disinterested in resolving the conflict through most of his two terms. That said, the reinvigorated (diplomatically speaking) President Bush must continue to push both sides to make significant concessions, in order for his prediction to come true.

Ghassan Khatib, writing in the Daily Star, articulates three challenges facing President Bush:

· The split between Gaza and West Bank, which undermines the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority

· Expansion of Israeli settlements

· Addressing final-status issues

One should note that Khatib is a former minister in the Palestinian Authority; therefore the challenges are skewed in one direction. Nevertheless, the issues he raises are all valid.

It can not be stated enough how difficult it will be to reach agreement on final-status issues. In particular, that is where the President or anyone representing the Untied States can really make a difference. Acting as an honest broker (no easy task on final-status issues) will be needed.

Khatib's concern over the settlements has President Bush's attention, which he has cited as an impediment to peace.

However, dealing with Gaza and specifically Hamas remains out of the picture for President Bush.