TO BE OR NOT TO BE? THE ANNAPOLIS CONFERENCE
By Micah Halpern
Wednesday November 7, 2007
The Annapolis Conference will take place. I say this despite the numerous rumors flying around on both sides of the Atlantic about the future of the Palestinian/Israeli Washington hosted forum for negotiations and meeting. The Annapolis Conference will not be cancelled. Actually the invitations will go out next Friday.
I speak with confidence on this issue for one simple reason. The invitation to appear in Annapolis was proffered by the president of the United States of America, and like it or not, like him or not, he is still one of the most powerful people in this world. When the President of the United States extends an invitation it is a command performance, and protocol demands that one always RSVP in the affirmative.
Certainly, there are reasons not to pack up, travel thousands of miles and arrive in Annapolis, Maryland. But they are just excuses, tools used by both sides to ratchet up the pressure on the other side. They are vehicles for leaders to prove to constituents that they are working on their behalf, protecting their interests, dealing from a position of strength. They are negotiating tricks, media manipulation techniques, intentional distortions of the vox populi in order to raise the level of expectation for this Conference so high that negotiator participants can then say things like, "my people will never go for that" or "I can't sell that back home."
Over the past few weeks, in fact, ever since the Conference was first announced and was scheduled to take place right now, in mid November, both the Palestinians and the Israelis have threatened to pull out. Israelis have said that weapons continue to be smuggled into Gaza from Egypt which is a clear signal that neither Palestinians nor Egyptians have any real interest in a true and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Palestinians are saying that if there is no real, significant, tangible outcome from the Annapolis Conference the result will be another uncontrolled and uncontrollable Intifada, that the streets will be filled with riots and disorder, that chaos will rule. The Palestinians are placing responsibility for the outcome of this Conference squarely on the Israelis. It is up to Israel to cede to Palestinian demands. It is up to the United States to see to it that Israel cedes to Palestinian demands.
Palestinian leadership has begun to present several Annapolis Conference ultimatums. A senior Palestinian official has said that no Conference is better than failure. He continued by saying "however if we do participate, we expect the US and the Quartet to pressure Israel heavily, so as not to allow the Summit to hurt Abbas' image or become a weapon in the Palestinian opposition's hands." And then he added "if the Conference fails, this would be the last nail in the coffin of negotiations. The public's faith in the diplomatic process is nonexistent as it is, and any failure in the summit would turn the process into a corpse."
Those are serious threats.
US chief diplomat Condi Rice has made numerous trips over the last month to the region for the express purpose of lowering these all or nothing expectations and asking Palestinian leadership to stop this do or die rhetoric. Apparently, these efforts by the secretary of state fell on seriously self-interested and deaf ears. The statements made by leading Palestinians merely serve to highlight how ginormous the gap is between the way Palestinians view the purpose and focus of the Annapolis Conference and the way the United States and Israelis see this Conference.
For the United States and Israel Annapolis is a starting point not an end point. For the Palestinians and their allies, it is everything. It is such an important part of the process for Israel that both the Israeli prime minister and the Israeli minister of defense have expressed the hope that Syria, a sworn enemy of Israel, will attend and participate. Why? Not to talk about the Golan Heights, but to discuss the Palestinians. Israel believes that Syria is part of the region and therefore, for that reason alone, the Syrians should have a role in how the future of the Palestinians plays out.
Obviously, the United States wants to claim success in the Middle East to counter the prolonged quagmire of Iraq.
Obviously, there are only thirteen and a half months left in the Bush presidency and George Bush and his government are searching for accomplishment on the Middle East front.
The reality, however, is that in the Middle East one step forward and two steps back has become the rule. And that is why, while I believe that the Annapolis Conference will obviously take place, I am not at all confident of the outcome.
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