ANNAPOLIS: SO WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?
By Micah Halpern
Wednesday November 21, 2007
The whole Annapolis Conference scene is getting way out of hand. This is not, as the saying goes, brain surgery. It is diplomacy. And the men and women arranging, re-arranging, negotiating, not negotiating, grandstanding, foot stomping and name calling are all supposed to be diplomats. Not just diplomats, seasoned diplomats.
So what's the problem? Emotion has gotten in the way of sound diplomatic reasoning. Hopes have replaced reality. Expectations have exceeded the norm.
So who's to blame for the problem? All three parties are to blame. The United States for setting out goals which are doomed to fail. The Palestinians for not taking any of this seriously enough to actually make either commitments or concessions. Israel for going along with this charade in the first place.
So why not just fix the problem? Because none of the parties will own up to the problem. Because each of the three principle parties has a private agenda and neither the United States nor the Palestinians nor Israel are willing to share that agenda with the others. Each country is guided by an unwritten, unarticulated and unannounced agenda. Until those agenda are given voice and shared there will be no progress between Palestinian and Israelis. Until a focused, agreed upon objective is put forth there will be no significant change in the in the status quo. No progress will be made, not in Annapolis, not in Jerusalem, not anywhere.
Let's begin with the United States, the host nation, the Conference sponsor. There has been a lot of talk about the need to create a Bush legacy, about the need to save face in the context of a failed Iraqi policy. If only that were so, if only that was the motivation behind the Annapolis Conference, expectations would have been lowered and goals might be realized. But all that has little to do with this Conference.
The most essential reason for the Annapolis Conference is the rebirth of the United States secretary of state. At long last, Condoleezza Rice is beginning to understand the region. She sees changes. She infers from those changes that this is the moment for greater change. She allows herself to believe that the time has come to create a solution to the years old and dragging on Israeli/Palestinian conflict. She thinks that she has regional support for the cause. She is wrong and with that as her goal she has set herself up to fail.
In an interesting aside, however, the Annapolis Conference will bring success of another type to the United States. More than the Israeli/Palestinian issue, the United States is concerned, nay worried, one might even say obsessive about the question of Iran.
In Annapolis the United States will be host to about forty other nations, many of them member nations of the Arab and Muslim world. This Conference will prove to the Iranians that the enemy United States can hold sway over those nations that Iran depends on most. That is success. Peace between the Palestinians and Israel will take longer to achieve.
Now let's look at Israel. The Israelis are in a very different situation. The Israelis are principle players at this Conference, but they are guests, not hosts, in Annapolis. They have nearly no leverage and almost no power. All the Israelis really want is peace, but this time around, Israel is not willing to give too much away in order to obtain that peace.
Israel has learned a lesson from previous peace summits and conferences. The more Israel gives away, the less Israel gets in return. Experience has taught Israeli leadership that their gestures have been in vain. Yes, they have won approbation from various other countries, but they have come not one bit closer to peace with the Palestinians. Israel is looking for a gentleman's agreement right now. A firm hand shake and the deal is closed. Peace for the sake of peace.
So why is Israel attending the Annapolis Conference when none of that is about to happen? Because Israel has no choice. When the United States extends an invitation, you respond and you respond positively.
Now let's look at the Palestinians. The Palestinians are in a win-win or loose-loose situation. The choice is theirs but they have not yet figured out how to play their own game. The Palestinians want everything and they have nothing to give in order to get it. They are making more and more demands and living up to fewer and fewer commitments.
So why are the Palestinians attending the Annapolis Conference? Not because they have to, because they want to. The Palestinians are hoping to take advantage of the other nations present at the Conference and enlist them in the effort to pressure the United States and Israel to make even more concessions. In short, the Palestinians want to take advantage of the situation to satisfy their own goal. And their goal is not peace.
The single, unanimously accepted, document that could bring the parties together - the document that the United States was hoping to produce in Annapolis, is not about to happen. The ultimate, unrealistic, hope. The ultimate failure. Are there any bright spots for Annapolis? I checked the weather forecast. They are not predicting snow.
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