We are on the eve of the Annapolis Summit. It is due to take place on 26th November in Annapolis, Maryland, US. It seems that before this summit begins, there will be much hype as to its impending failure. The Israelis and Palestinians, under US arm twisting, must come out with a common declaration of principles. This in itself will involve phrasing, paraphrasing and rephrasing verbiage that will be lost in heavy polemics, the bottom line of which says nothing. If the verbiage is full of riddles then Israel will not see the declaration of principles as binding nor will the Palestinians. The leadership of both Palestine and Israel show skepticism as to the success of this US attempt to bring the parties to the conflict together.

Both Palestinians and Israelis have a weak leadership. President Mahmoud Abbas is the president of a divided Palestine which does not include Gaza (ruled by Hamas). His position in the West Bank is also shaky with Hamas cells breathing down his neck and waiting in the shadows to take over by a coup de etat as occurred in Gaza. PM Ehud Olmert also is weak and is under police investigation for possible criminal activity. He has lost his credibility and does not have much support. According to a report in Haaretz 21st October 2007, the right wing members of his coalition (Yisrael Beitenu under Avigdor Lieberman and Shas under Eli Yishai) have threatened to leave the government if core issues are discussed at the summit. What is the point of holding a summit when core issues that are the root of the conflict are not discussed? Surely this is another indication of Israel’s hands being tied resulting in the summit being doomed before it even starts.

Apart from that, the Israeli and Palestinian positions are poles apart about bridging the gap between the two sides with a common declaration of principles. Neither side trusts the other. Trust is a very important ingredient in formulating a common declaration of principles. Those attending, apart from the Israeli and the PLO negotiation teams, are expected to include representatives from Egypt, Jordan and possibly neighboring Arab countries as well as from the G-8 countries and permanent members of the UN Security Council.  The success of such a conference is dependent more on the moderate Arab States than on the Palestinians. The possibility that Hamas will try to derail the conference by sending suicide bombers into Israel cannot be ruled out either.

According to a report in the Editorial of Al Ahram Weekly, 18 – 24 October 2007,

The US-sponsored peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland, is not something to which Arabs should be looking forward. Judging by the recent discourse of the parties concerned the conference — should it finally be held — will achieve no progress. So much was made clear in several revealing statements issued during US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to the region this week.
Rice made her statements following talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on 14 October. The next day she met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, after which she told a press conference that US president George W Bush is “committed” to “ending” what she called the “Palestinian problem”. She then headed to Cairo where her Egyptian counterpart expressed concern over the vagueness and purpose of the Annapolis conference and suggested it be delayed. Rice replied there was no set date to be delayed.
So what exactly is Rice telling us? She’s saying the conference will be held, even though it has no agenda and despite the fact she thinks the Palestinian and Israeli governments are incapable of moving forward towards resolving the decades-old conflict. Indeed, she describes 59 years of Israeli occupation, apartheid, and violation of international law, the demolition of Palestinian homes and five million Palestinian refugees as “the Palestinian problem”. Rice is not alone in cautioning against any expectations that the conference will have positive results. Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who will head Israel’s negotiating team in Annapolis, has already warned the Arabs not to go to the conference with too many hopes.

There is no feeling of optimism, in neither the Israeli camp nor the Palestinian camp. The US under President Bush is not the ideal example of a peace broker. We only have to look at the tragic mess that the US has made in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US got rid of Saddam Hussein, replacing his regime with total anarchy and bloodshed. In Afghanistan the US tried to capture Osama bin Laden, the arch terrorist, and failed. They tried to destroy the Taliban – an extremist Islamist movement and they did not succeed entirely. They propped up a puppet regime under President Hamid Kazai. His grassroots support is very shaky. The Taliban are showing signs of rebirth. Is the US able to be an honest broker, organizing peace summits between Israelis and Palestinians with a “peace record” like that?

Both Palestinians and Israelis are fully aware that the chances of this summit succeeding remains very slim indeed. President Mahmoud Abbas favours a Palestinian State comprising 6205 sq. k. in the West Bank and Gaza and he wishes to discuss key issues of the Permanent Status Agreement such as Jerusalem, refugees, borders, settlements, water and security.

Mahmoud Abbas is trying to maneuver Israel back into the sequence of the Oslo negotiations through an ‘all-or-nothing’ approach – in other words, combining all the separate issues into one package. However, in light of the visible gaps between the parties on the Outstanding Issues, this approach narrows the chances of reaching any achievement in the political process. Israel will find this unacceptable. Israel is adopting a policy of maneuver. Israel does not intend to even negotiate seriously but rather mark time and come out with further statements that will not be helpful in getting the peace process on track. This emphasizes the fact that the agenda of the Palestinians is clearer than the Israeli agenda which remains hazy.

It is difficult to find any basis for a common declaration of principles between the two sides when both sides have priorities that are so diametrically opposed one from the other. Apart from that, Abbas also has a problem with Gaza which is ruled by Hamas. Both Olmert and Abbas cannot overlook that. This problem of Hamas ruling Gaza will have to be solved. Now, there are two states – Hamas-ruled Gaza and Fatah-ruled West Bank. How this will be incorporated into one state remains to be seen. How will the Annapolis Summit relate to this? Hamas is opposed to the summit which they view as a sell-out to the US and Israel. They will do all they can to destroy Mahmoud Abbas if he signs an agreement with Israel. They have hinted that.  

The Israelis wish to come out with a general document that is not binding because of the inability to draw up a common declaration of principles.

The idea of coming to the summit with the lowest common denominator between Israelis and Palestinians is an exercise in futility. Even Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, with her American baggage of failures in peace making, is not going to succeed in bringing the sides together.

All this hype about the upcoming summit proves that it will be another impotent attempt at peace making between Israel and the Palestinians. The most that can be expected is another photo opportunity of handshakes all round.  





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