By Micah Halpern
Tuesday November 13, 2007
Downtown Annapolis is quaint, quiet and picturesque. The town square is host to a child friendly statue of Alex Haley, reminiscent of Central Park's Alice In Wonderland and Albert Einstein relaxing in Washington, D.C. The streets are lined with taffy and ice cream parlors, hat stores and souvenir shops. Boats dock in the harbor. The statehouse sits on a manicured lawn and cannons used long ago dot the landscape. The naval academy rests in the background. Annapolis is as charming as it is historic.
In a few days, charm will all but disappear in Annapolis, Maryland. History of another kind will be made. Annapolis, a former capitol of the United States, will join the growing list of venues chosen by the United States to host Middle East Peace Summits. And the hope that this Summit fares better than previous Summits is quickly diminishing.
If the United States is to be accused of anything, it is for trying and trying hard. If Israel is to be accused of anything it is for bungling small issues and turning them into international incidents. If the Palestinians are to be accused of anything it is for just not getting it, not getting it at all.
Invitations to the last major world event of calendar year 2007 haven't even gone out and the squabbling and the quibbling and the insults have turned vicious.
On Saturday the Palestinians called US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to complain. The complaint was that Israel had reneged on a deal, that Israel was no longer planning to participate in the high level trilateral meetings that had been agreed upon earlier in the week. Complaining to the United States is a little obvious and smacks of grandstanding since the three countries involved in the "tri" lateral talks were the Palestinians, Israel and the United States and the US would know what was happening, but I take the complaint as a good, even positive sign.
This early tattling is actually an indicator that the Palestinians are really planning to attend, despite the protestations we have heard and will probably continue to hear. It indicates that the Palestinians have accepted the United States as mediator. It indicates that the Palestinians are searching for tools to be used in the negotiating process. In order for there to be any modicum of success at Annapolis, both the Palestinians and Israelis must feel that they can complain to the host, even about minutia, especially early in the process, in order to keep the process going. And it means that both sides can expect the United States to keep the other honest, to live up to their respective ends of the deal.
I hope that the Secretary of State took the Palestinian complaint seriously, not in content, but in style. The most glaring explanation for past failed agreements between Palestinians and Israelis traces directly back to failed follow-through. There has never been an authoritative, outside party forcing the parties to adhere to agreed upon principles. Maybe Annapolis can change that. Maybe that is how the Annapolis Summit will make history. But first, the sides have to get there.
On Sunday Israel committed what is referred to in the Middle East in Arabic as a major "fashla" - a big, awful, mistake. We would use the acronym SNAFU. For reasons still unknown a senior Palestinian negotiator, on his way to sit down at a negotiating table, was denied entry into Israel. That should never have happened. What should have been a simple border crossing turned into a door slammed shut.
The United States and Israel have secured a very important Annapolis pre-requisite from the Palestinians that they will work on their Security front. The Palestinians are negligent and too lax when it comes to matters of security and now, in this important instance, Israel can be accused of misplaced, too stringent security.
Security lies at the heart of the matter. If Palestinians actually take charge and attempt to bring some safety and security to their own areas the door to an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians allowing for a Palestinian state will automatically open. The United States will make certain of that. I am careful to use the words "attempt" and "some" here. No country can expect 100% success, but 100% effort can certainly be expected. But this is not new. And yet, today's Palestinian leaders, the men who hold the key to this door, are unwilling and unable to insert the key into the lock and swing open the door.
We know that Hamas has no problem activating their armed militia to attack Palestinians. Why is it so difficult for Abbas to control his security forces? On the third anniversary of Arafat's demise a mausoleum was erected in Ramallah. In attendance were Abbas and other Fatah leaders. At the site, in front of witnesses, only days ago, these Fatah members swore to continue the vision Arafat set forth for the Palestinian people, for his people. Have Abbas and company forgotten the Arafat legacy so quickly? Arafat had no problem using brute force, at whim, to squelch his opponents. Arafat realized that he would get more by saying yes than by saying maybe. Abbas is a leader, unlike Arafat, who refuses to clamp down internally and then blames outside forces for his problems.
The United States is still trying. Egypt is trying. Egypt gets it and Egypt has convinced Saudi Arabia of the importance of Annapolis for the sake of the Palestinians. Syria is seriously considering coming, but nor for the sake of the Palestinians, for their own sake. Syria will attend only if the Golan Heights are under discussion. Israel says no way. The United States says please come.
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