Now that the dust has settled from the Annapolis conference, and before the effective beginning of the negotiation process it created, it might be helpful to summarize the strategic issues the Annapolis process has raised thus far. At this point there are more questions than answers.
First and foremost: was the conference an important step toward ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Or was this merely one more in a long list of essentially fruitless meetings? Only time will tell.
Referring to the underlying strategic motivation shared by many of those attending Annapolis, was the conference instrumental in further crystallizing an anti-Iran, anti-militant front in the Middle East under US leadership? Or was Arab and Muslim countries' attendance prompted by little more than knee-jerk deference to the Bush/Rice invitation, reflecting the disarray and impotence of most of the Arab world today?
From the Israeli standpoint, one key concern is how committed the Arab states are to help shepherd an Israeli-Palestinian peace process and to offer incentives and rewards in the spirit of the Arab peace initiative. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's call at Annapolis for the Arab world to normalize relations with Israel forthwith was obviously either naive or an instance of grandstanding for his Israeli audience. But will the Arabs reciprocate if and when Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas begin making progress? Egyptian officials say they will, but we haven't heard from the Saudis.
From the Palestinian standpoint and for the objective good of the process as well, we must also ask: how committed are President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to applying pressure on both Israel and the Palestinians to carry out their roadmap phase I commitments? In other words what, if anything, will Washington do when General James Jones reports back that due to coalition constraints Olmert refuses to remove an outpost and to reopen Orient House, or that Abbas is invoking pressure from his own Fateh militants to justify delaying a crackdown on terror? For seven years Bush has held back from serious involvement in Israel-Arab affairs. How far, in an American election year, will he now go?
Apropos domestic political constraints, how will both Olmert and Abbas escape them? In this regard, Olmert's problems with right wing coalition partners like Shas and Yisrael Beitenu pale alongside the challenges facing Abbas in seeking to "deliver" on his security commitments in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Abbas' options regarding Gaza, none of which are good, appear to range from reestablishing a Fateh-Hamas unity government all the way to collaborating in an Israeli reoccupation of the Strip. At the end of the day, both leaders are dealing with dysfunctional political systems that render it extremely difficult for the majority of their publics to give concrete expression to their support for a two-state solution.
In this regard, Abbas and the Palestinian political system suffer from a particularly acute problem that no one at Annapolis or beyond appears to be dealing with. Who will take charge of reforming Fateh and converting it from a corrupt and inefficient national liberation movement that deservedly lost an election to Hamas, to a reasonably functional and clean ruling party of a future Palestinian state? Without this vital step toward proper governance, the Palestinian state-building project appears destined to continue to founder.
Finally, what expression will now be given to the aspiration expressed at Annapolis to promote a comprehensive peace process that includes Syria, Lebanon and regional issues as well as the Israeli-Palestinian track? Is a conference in Moscow early in 2008 the solution? Was Annapolis relevant to the efforts of many Israelis and Syrians to promote a peace process between their two countries--a more promising venture by far than the highly problematic Israeli-Palestinian track that was ostensibly launched last week?- Published 3/12/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Even those who had modest expectations for the Annapolis conference were disappointed by its results: an agreement to start negotiations and a statement that selectively reiterated parts of the roadmap that the parties had anyway failed to implement since it was introduced in 2003.
The two sides, with heavy American involvement, failed not only to bridge the gap between them and make political progress toward agreement, but also to agree on any terms of reference for the negotiations that are to follow or even their subject. That should confirm previous suspicions that the parties needed the Annapolis conference to strengthen the respective leaderships in Israel, Palestine and the US rather than to achieve any tangible progress in peacemaking.
The inability to agree on almost anything in the preparations for Annapolis, including an agenda or the terms of reference for subsequent negotiations, is a strong indication that the forecast for the actual negotiations is extremely poor. The parties, who exaggerated the scale of the event, were at the same time consistent in their attempts to lower political expectations.
Both parties, together with prominent members of the international community, are now busy preparing for what promises to be a huge and noisy process that will move from one capital to another. In this way, the parties hope to cover up the expected lack of substantial political progress by exaggerating the process itself. It is ironic to note that Annapolis, which marked no substantial progress, was presented by officials and the media as a success, while the 2000 Camp David negotiations, which showed limited but substantial progress, were portrayed as a failure, one that was readily blamed on the Palestinian side in view of the internal situation on the Israeli side.
The Annapolis event and the process that is to follow have already had different effects on the different parties. The US government has benefited from convening the conference by conveying the impression that at least it is doing its best. This is useful for American Middle East policy generally and for engaging Arab countries and publics in a way that might to a certain extent contain the Iranian influence that increases as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict deteriorates.
Annapolis was also useful to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his internal standing. Olmert is trying to create a sense that he is a political survivor and that his survival is useful for the cause of Israeli security.
One of the negative outcomes of Annapolis was that it further marginalized the political role of Europe and the international community in general. Annapolis was characterized by a reversion to the American monopoly on mediation, a monopoly that has proved to be one of the causes of earlier failure in peacemaking attempts.
As for Arab countries, from among whom a sizeable delegation participated, they too were disappointed because the Arab initiative, which is consistent with international legality and the roadmap, was not endorsed.
In Palestine, the effect of Annapolis is more complicated. The differences that became apparent among the Palestinian members of the negotiating delegation in the last days and hours before the conference convened, indicate that some of the leading members of that delegation were preparing to direct the blame for the expected failure on others.
Thus, when President Mahmoud Abbas returns back to Palestine, he will be faced with at least three serious challenges. The first is blame, including from some of his closest aides and members of his delegation, for the failure of Annapolis, including for the decision to sign onto the poor joint statement that was read at the end by US President George W. Bush. In truth, Palestinian diplomacy must share the blame for that with Arab diplomacy, both of which failed to prevent Bush from including in his opening statement the Israeli position on Israel being the state of the Jewish people. This controversial position is opposed by Palestinians and Arabs because it precludes the rights of Israel's Arab citizens as well as the right of return of Palestinian refugees.
The second challenge is the growing pressure on Abbas, which started before Annapolis, from his Fateh fellows to order a government reshuffle in order to appoint Fateh members and change the composition of the government away from independents.
The third and most important challenge is when the Palestinian public realizes that neither Annapolis nor the subsequent process of negotiations will end Israeli settlement expansions or the draconian restrictions on Palestinians in general, both of which are heavily responsible for the misery of Palestinian lives. This in turn will be heavily exploited by the Hamas leadership, which kept a low profile before and during Annapolis in order later to say "we told you so".
Both Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have a common interest in facing these challenges. They need each other and strengthening their alliance is useful to both. Indeed, the party or personality that is affected the least by the failure of Annapolis on the Palestinian side is Fayyad. He kept a certain distance from the process and instead of gambling on any political progress he focused on practical measures such as economic and security improvements. In a telling statement after the security success his government achieved in Nablus, he said that for him what happens in Nablus is more important than what would happen at Annapolis.
Overall, Annapolis has left the Palestinian leadership in a very critical position. The absence of any practical improvement on the ground as well as in terms of Palestinian political aspirations will leave it an easy target for the opposition. In this way, in the medium term the Palestinian leadership will pay the price for the benefits the Americans and Israelis made out of the process. A win-win situation that includes the survival of the Palestinian leadership depends on whether the Americans will act to ensure that Israel fulfills its obligations under the first phase of the roadmap by stopping the expansion of settlements and reversing its reoccupation of PA areas. - Published 3/12/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons.org family of internet publications. He is vice-president of Birzeit University and a former Palestinian Authority minister of planning.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
The settlers will survive Annapolis
by Yisrael Harel
The Annapolis conference was primarily an instance of political theater rather than a significant international diplomatic event. And while the performance was not particularly good and the two key actors, the Israeli prime minister and the president of the Palestinian Authority, not at their best, the show--at least from the standpoint of the principal producer, the United States--must go on.
The settlers of Judea and Samaria, despite having absorbed the Palestinian terror campaign that preceded the event, were not particularly anxious over the drama presented at Annapolis. They are accustomed to such dramas and even worse being staged in the United States--e.g., the Oslo signing, Wye and Camp David. These usually conclude with a Palestinian bloodbath that affects all of Israel but focuses especially on the roads and villages of the settlers.
Some of those settlers allow themselves to hope that this time, considering that the Annapolis performance lacked the highly dramatic features of antecedents like Camp David in 2000, the outcome will be less catastrophic than the thousands of wounded and over 1,200 Jews who paid with their lives for the confidence placed in Yasser Arafat after that particular drama. The settlers' primary concern emerges from the fear that even after so many negative precedents, those in charge in Jerusalem and of course Washington still have not learned their lessons. Here the capacity to absorb real lessons places at risk not only the future of the settlement project in the territories but also, indeed primarily, the future of the state of Israel.
The immediate challenge facing the 285,000 settlers concerns preventing the removal of so-called "unauthorized" outposts and annulling the directive to freeze construction in veteran settlements, including some that have been in existence for nearly 40 years. The latter edict strangles not only the settlers' external expansion but their internal growth as well, insofar as some 10,000 babies were born last year in the settlements of Judea and Samaria.
In orderly societies, citizens seeking to reverse such inhumane governmental edicts are referred to the judicial system. Yet the latter, due to its ideological rather than judicial structure, is virtually inaccessible. True, there is a basic law that guarantees human dignity and liberty; in not a few instances, particularly related to the Israeli Arab sector, it has prevented the government from stopping citizens from building dwellings, based on the argument that you cannot forbid people from building on their own land when they possess building permits issued by the municipal authority where they live. The same should hold for the territories, especially the veteran settlements. Yet the settler leadership's assessment, based on previous experience, mitigates against appealing to an Israeli court system that, especially at the High Court of Justice level, leans noticeably toward the political left.
A central issue that must be factored into any assessment of the settlers' response to the removal of outposts and cessation of construction work in veteran settlements touches on the trauma they suffered following the destruction of the Qatif Bloc settlements in the Gaza Strip two-and-a-half years ago. The Yesha Council, the settler leadership, was blamed by the vast majority of settlers for negligence in this connection; worse, the leadership was cited for a lack of will to fight against the settlement removal project. Some settler leaders were even accused of collaboration with the IDF and the political leadership, especially PM Ariel Sharon and his sons.
This crisis of confidence led to the resignation of the council's chairman, Bentzi Lieberman, the dissolving of the council and the creation of a new and more democratic body that better represents the settlers' diverse ideological composition. The new leadership is not likely to allow itself to be blamed for avoiding a fight or collaborating with the government. Thus if Ehud Olmert really attempts to implement what he committed to in Annapolis--removing outposts--he is liable this time to encounter far more aggressive and comprehensive opposition than at the Qatif Bloc. (I was there during the expulsion and can testify that there was no real struggle; the media description of a violent clash was largely contrived, in part to create a media drama.) The brutal and traumatic dismantling of houses at Amuna some 18 months ago also seriously affected settler attitudes, particularly among the younger generation, which has sworn not to allow a replay even if this means a major confrontation with the police.
Nor will Israeli public opinion support the government again the way it did at the Qatif bloc. In particular, the public recognizes that the Gaza removal merely increased terrorism, particularly Qassam rocket attacks on Sderot and the western Negev. Further, the Israeli public, including those prepared to make territorial concessions to the Palestinians, does not believe that concessions such as dismantling outposts should be made for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). The public knows that Abbas is not a genuine leader who can, in accordance with his obligations, reciprocate to Israel first and foremost by ending terrorism. If he is granted Israeli concessions while failing to deliver on his own obligations to Israel, the latter will retain no assets with which to pay the Palestinian leaders who follow Abu Mazen.
All in all, the settlers are only somewhat worried this time. They perceive that, despite American pressures, once again they will succeed in preventing the worst from happening. Not so much because the government of Israel will consider their feelings, but rather because of the deterrence they are beginning to generate and, no less, because Olmert's "partner", Abu Mazen, is incapable of offering Israel anything in return.- Published 3/12/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Yisrael Harel heads the Institute for Zionist Strategy in Jerusalem and writes a weekly political column in Haaretz. He is former head of the Yesha Council (Council of Jewish Settlements in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza District) and former editor of its monthly Nekuda.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
A complete failure
an interview with Sami Abu Zuhri
bitterlemons: The Annapolis conference is just over and the US has hailed it as a success. What do you think?
The meeting at Annapolis was a 100 percent failure, and not, as the Americans claim, a success. Instead of any announcement of a Palestinian state, something the US claims to support, we simply have an announcement that negotiations over such a state are to begin. These are negotiations that are already ongoing and did not need the exaggeration of Annapolis.
Also, the Israeli declarations that followed Annapolis indicate that the meeting was a circus. [Israeli PM Ehud] Olmert today says he will not be committed to any date at the end of 2008 as the limit for finding a negotiated solution with the Palestinian side. The AmericanS also withdrew a related proposal at the United Nations upon Israeli request.
All the indications show that the Israelis are not going to change any of their positions after the Annapolis meeting. In other words, the meeting was a charade designed to fool the Palestinians and Arab countries. The recent Israeli escalation in Gaza provides even further proof of this.
The US appears willing to reengage as mediator between Palestinians and Israelis. Is that good?
America is not an honest mediator and Washington is completely biased toward Israel. The US is exerting pressure on the PA to dismantle Palestinian resistance groups while it is doing nothing to pressure the Israelis to stop their aggression.
President Mahmoud Abbas has been criticized for being willing to engage in a process with Israel. Why? Is this not a legitimate avenue to seek Palestinian goals?
We have criticized Abbas because we already knew and expected such frustrating results from these meetings, especially after his failure to get a declaration of principles from the Israelis before Annapolis. Without agreement in the principles to guide negotiations how can we expect anything positive vis-a-vis the rights of Palestinians?
The problem lies not with negotiations as such but with the occupation that denies us our rights. Negotiations are only used by Israel as a means to cover these crimes against us. Furthermore, the Palestinian side conducts negotiations in a harmful way because the PA has no resources with which to counter Israeli stubbornness. This imbalance in power make negotiations imbalanced.
Hamas has been very critical of the Annapolis conference. Would Hamas have attended if invited?
The conference has finished and it is too late to answer such a question.
Much has been made of threats that Hamas could use violence to derail any negotiations. Is this a possibility? What purpose would violence now serve?
The Annapolis meeting has already failed so there is no need to use any resistance to derail it. Also, the resistance is not related to Annapolis or any other meeting but is linked to Israeli violence, the occupation and to regaining our rights.
If not negotiations, then what should the Palestinian presidency be seeking?
The Palestinian presidency must first seek an internal dialogue between the Palestinian groups in order to reach a unified internal front. Only that way can we confront the Israeli aggression, and then wait for a suitable international and regional atmosphere to start obtaining our rights.- Published 3/12/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Sami Abu Zuhri is a Hamas spokesperson.
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