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Momentum builds for Mideast peace summit

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Palestinians say that it is only with such a "declaration of principles" in hand that they will attend, and with them, moderate Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, which has been pushing for a more comprehensive peace deal.

In a message to Arab states that have been reluctant to commit to attending the conference, Mr. Olmert said that a Saudi Arabia-backed peace plan would "surely make a significant contribution toward a solution between us and the Palestinians." The prime minister said he hoped serious peace talks would follow the Annapolis meeting, resulting in a final agreement in 2008.

"I want the Arab nations to know that the negotiations will tackle all the main issues. We won't try to avoid any problem or overlook any issue," he said.

Palestinians have indicated that they want Arab states there, but only if Israel is willing to put substantial issues on the table. Many here say they doubt Israel will, and its resistance to doing so is diminishing expectations.

"The Israelis are really not in a rush to settle the core issues, and the Palestinians are too weak to do so," says Bassam Zubeidy, a political scientist at Birzeit University outside Ramallah.

The promise of having a clear and concrete working paper to launch the Annapolis conference continues to hang in doubt, sources on both sides indicated.

"There's been progress but that doesn't mean that there will be a joint statement," says Miri Eisin, Olmert's spokeswoman. Returning from the meetings in Egypt, she acknowledges that getting to a declaration has proved difficult. What each side wants from the documents varies wildly.

"Israel wants to go forward but not at any price," Ms. Eisin says. "If these were simple issues that could be solved just like that, they wouldn't have been our sticking points for years and years."

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