By Shimon Z. Klein

Most peace loving people would like to see this conference ending in success. However, there are so many factors going against the Annapolis Peace Conference even before the delegates enter the conference venue for its first meeting. This is sad but one has to be realistic. It is really Hobson’s choice for both Prime Minister Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas. It is a matter of both sides not being allowed to be winners or losers each for their own reasons.
 

If Abbas, by some miracle, is successful, he will be condemned by Hamas which will emphasize Abbas’s role as a traitor to the Palestinian cause and he will be viewed as a US-Israel collaborator. This could result in a threat to his leadership as well as to his life.

 

If Abbas fails, the Palestinian people who wish to see an improvement in their lives as well as an end to the occupation with its check posts and the resulting humiliations from it will remain under occupation with all that it entails. This time there will be no face savers if there is failure.

 

If Olmert fails, the Labour Party coalition partner could bolt the government resulting in its fall. If Olmert succeeds, his right wing partners – Israel Beitenu and Shas could bolt the government and it would fall as well. So both sides will be at a conference which will be accompanied by much press hype and is doomed to failure.

 

No matter how one views the prospects of this conference, both the Israeli and Palestinian leadership are weak and have their hands tied by their electorate or coalition partners.

 

According to a report in Haaretz, November 9 2007,

 

Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed that any future agreement between them would be conditional to the implementation of the first stage of the Road Map, which includes Palestinian counter-terrorism operations and a freeze on construction in the settlements. The agreement, which follows two weeks of stalemate in the negotiations between the two sides, may pave the way to the drafting of a shared declaration that will be presented at the Annapolis peace summit later this month.

In talks between the two negotiating teams in Tel Aviv yesterday, it was agreed that “any implementation of agreements in the future will be conditional to both sides carrying out what they must in accordance with the first stage of the road map.” It is expected that a similar formulation will appear in the joint declaration the two sides will make at Annapolis.
 

It remains to be seen whether the two sides will be able to make a joint declaration before the Annapolis Peace Conference commences.
 

Israel talks about peace but is still expanding settlements in the territories at the same time. 
 

Another point as far as the Palestinians are concerned is the freeing of prisoners. The Palestinian leadership will press for a wide scale prisoner release including those prisoners with blood on their hands. Anything less than that would be unacceptable to them. Core issues, such as the refugee problem, will not be discussed because it would result in Olmert’s right wing coalition partners bolting the government. The problem with Hamas is another factor that cannot be overlooked. Hamas rules Gaza today. Abu Mazen’s team does not represent Hamas-ruled Gaza. This means that the West Bank is the decision-maker as Palestine is divided into two entities in practice – Fatah-ruled West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza. The latter does not have any recognition by the EU, US, UN and Russia nor will it be represented. One cannot deny that Hamas has wide support and is a threat to the Fatah leadership in the West Bank. This non-recognition strengthens Hamas’s resolve to put a spanner in the works of Annapolis. Overlooking Hamas is a great mistake and it will not ensure the success of Annapolis. How can this peace summit succeed with so many factors working against it?  Hamas is uncompromising in its attitude towards recognizing Israel’s right to exist and in ceasing its terrorist activity against Israel. Hamas is also not prepared to negotiate with Israel. This in itself creates a very serious problem for Hamas representation at Annapolis. It is doubtful if Hamas would have accepted an invitation to attend the conference had an invitation been issued to it. If Hamas had accepted the invitation to attend it would be tantamount to recognition of Israel and all that it entails. This is unacceptable to Hamas if one judges by their rhetoric and their deeds so far.

 

As far as both Olmert and Abbas are concerned, they are both in a Catch 22 situation whether they succeed or fail. If there is success or failure, Olmert’s coalition will eventually break up. Mahmoud Abbas is in a similar predicament. He cannot sign an agreement with Israel while Hamas breathes down his neck. If there is no agreement, the Palestinians stand to lose as there will be no chance of giving up the occupation, easing the check posts and no chance of economic improvement as well as a better standard of living for the Palestinians.

 

A far better alternative to the ill-fated Annapolis Summit would be investment in building viable Palestinian institutions that would ensure stable government and law enforcement. This is actually one of the provisions stated in the first phase of the Road Map. Now there is total anarchy in the West Bank with crime rates reaching a zenith.

 

Whatever concessions Abu Mazen manages to get from the Israelis, if any, will never satisfy Hamas and its allies. Hamas is dead set on sabotaging the results of the conference at all costs.

 

If Annapolis fails and the chance of that is not remote, the whole idea of a two-state solution to the conflict will be destroyed. This means that the idea of a binational state or a federation of Israel and Palestine as one entity will come up for debate. There are no other solutions.

 

 

 

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