Middle East Roundtable
Edition 41 Volume 5 - November 08, 2007
Annapolis and the Arab world
• The bumpy road to Annapolis - Nizar Abdel-Kader
For the Arab people, the agenda of the Annapolis conference has fallen short of the expectations raised by the Arab peace initiative.
• Syria and the Annapolis illusion - Mohammad Habash
Any simple reading of the political map should confirm that the absence of Syria, Iran and Hamas will not produce any peace on this earth.
• Jordan and the "last chance conference" - Oraib Al Rantawi
There are warnings in Jordan of the consequences of ignoring its interests in the final settlement.
The bumpy road to Annapolis
Another Middle East peace summit is coming up in Annapolis. This is President George W. Bush's first proper diplomatic initiative toward peace since he took office in 2001. The summit will focus on the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.
Some western policymakers think the conference comes at the most favorable moment since the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000 for both Palestinians and Israelis to engage in serious peace talks. This assumption is based, first of all, on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who seems prepared for the first time to invest her efforts properly in a peace initiative.
The conference is scheduled at a time when the Middle East remains mired in its worst crisis in more than two decades. This explains why some observers look at the conference as a genuine opportunity for progress and believe a positive outcome could play a critical role in stemming the rising tide of instability and violence. Yet failure might generate devastating consequences throughout the region.
Rice faces serious obstacles in organizing the Annapolis peace conference. Israelis and Palestinians are far apart regarding the draft of a joint statement to be presented to the conference. The two sides have fundamental differences over how detailed the document should be and whether it should draw a time line for progress on eventual negotiations concerning the boundaries of the Palestinian state, the issue of Jerusalem and the right of return of Palestinian refugees.
Bearing in mind the lessons of the last attempt--seven years ago at Camp David between Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak--to deal with the fundamental political issues that divide the two sides, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas believes that, in order to be successful, the outcome of the conference must be substantive. Abbas and his associates know quite well that they will not be able to remain politically representative if they decide to accept Israeli conditions that lower the ceiling set by Arafat, who rejected Barak's offers, which were in turn more generous than those presented by Olmert.
The challenges facing the Annapolis conference fuel the general feeling that it will not produce an Israeli- Palestinian peace deal. These challenges may be summarized as follows. First, Israel has emphasized that any negotiations on a final peace accord must be predicated on implementing phase one of the roadmap, which requires Palestinian security control in the West Bank and Gaza. With Hamas now ruling Gaza, such a demand becomes an impossible task.
In this regard, the greatest impediment to the proposed summit is that the process ignores Hamas, which has full control of the Gaza Strip and presently plays the role of "hostile entity".
Then too, the conference will focus solely on the Palestinian -Israeli issue, thereby driving Syria in its isolation to use Hamas and other rejectionist groups to challenge Abbas' authority as a peace negotiator. Syria and its Palestinian cronies will play the role of spoiler. In other words, if Syria and Hamas remain ostracized they are more likely to increase their efforts to escalate violence from Gaza and the West Bank. Such actions will, in turn, unrdermine Israel's willingness or capacity to relax security restrictions--a necessary step for the Palestinian side.
Finally, the Israeli government is very weak and unstable. It is not likely to have the political strength or the will to embark on meaningful negotiations that could lead to a major diplomatic breakthrough.
Rice is now frequently in the region trying to convince both parties to draw up a proposal for the conference. Hopefully, her presence will not represent another journey of futile diplomacy. If the conference is to have any chance of success she needs to be firmer, more creative and willing to speak "louder" to both parties, that is, duplicate James Baker's method used prior to the 1991 Madrid conference of twisting everyone's arm.
It is not yet clear who will come on board other than the Americans, Israelis and Palestinians. There are high hopes that the Arab quartet of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will join the conference to enhance Abbas' position and encourage Bush to move to achieve his promised two-state solution. The Arab quartet is not committing itself to participate prior to receiving some assurance of at least partial success of the conference through the establishment of a secure path for ultimate negotiations dealing with all the critical issues involved in establishing a Palestinian state. Saudi Arabia is careful to avoid being accused of recognizing and normalizing its relations with Israel without any price--or in return for Israeli acquiescence to a $20 billion arms sale to the kingdom.
For the Arab people, the agenda of the Annapolis conference has fallen short of the expectations raised by the Arab peace initiative--which represents a general framework for a comprehensive peace, to include Syria and Lebanon--thereby causing a general feeling of indifference. This reaction in turn gives the Syrian regime and all other rejectionist forces, including Hamas and Hizballah, a free arena to outmaneuver and discredit the entire process. These non- productive actions will be manifested in more Syrian and internal pressures being exercised on the Siniora government in Lebanon.
The Bush administration must know that holding a conference on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a very risky matter that might have devastating consequences in the context of the multi-layered crisis the region is now undergoing. The administration should do everything necessary to avoid a repetition of the Camp David disaster in 2000, when President Bill Clinton dragged Arafat and Barak into a no-win deal. When the Camp David peace conference collapsed, it destroyed all hopes and opened the door to increased violence and extremism. No one wishes for a third intifada in Palestine and another war across the blue line in Lebanon.- Published 8/11/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org
Nizar Abdel- Kader is a researcher and political analyst/columnist at Ad- Diyar newspaper in Beirut.
Syria and the Annapolis illusion
To understand why there is so much Syrian skepticism regarding the Annapolis meeting it may be useful to analyze the differences between former and current presidents George Bush.
The 1991 Madrid peace conference was held under the joint sponsorship of the United States and the Soviet Union. The US was then seen as a savior in the Middle East after it succeeded in pushing Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait while refusing to invade Baghdad despite the overwhelming support that George H. W. Bush enjoyed. At the same time, Washington forced then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to participate in the Madrid conference. The two sponsors created some kind of a balance, all major issues were on the agenda and Spain was a third country outside the circle of conflict.
All that has changed in the past few years.
America is no longer seen as a savior. On the contrary, it has become the Middle East troublemaker. George W. Bush has entered into a series of wars that have brought horrendous disasters and are threatening ever worse consequences. He insisted on invading Baghdad and staying there despite the opposition of the UN. Today, and for the first time in decades, we hear renewed talk about a world war. He made enemies of several regimes and countries that had until then enjoyed reasonable relations with the US.
Now we see him now announce a peace conference that shows no single component of success. George W. Bush does not to any degree enjoy the credibility that his father did. He never fails to repeat the message that the success of his peace program does not depend on Syria, Lebanon, Iran or Hamas and insists on excluding these parties while at the same time claiming he is bent on achieving peace. What is the nature of the peace he wants when he insists on excluding the major parties and even prevents the adversaries from resuming contact? How can we envision peace when Washington says it will not, even before invitations are sent out, discuss the issue of the Golan Heights, as if the Golan is a deserted farm and not home to more than 600,000 human beings who have been dispersed for the past 40 years?
The American position during the war in Lebanon last July may be the most illustrative to explain Syrian suspicions. When Israel invaded South Lebanon, we felt perplexed. How could Israel invade a country where friends of America are in charge and guide the country according to American wishes? We thought it would be a matter of hours during which Israel would launch a strike against the resistance and then withdraw. But instead the Israeli air force struck at everything: it shelled the north, the south, the east and the west from Ras al-Naqoura and al-Masna to al-Rawsheh, Nabatieh and Ashrafieh even until the area of Qreitem Palace. There was no safe haven in Lebanon and Israel announced its intention to exact revenge from the soil and land of Lebanon.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora sent several appeals to the US and even shed tears before the TV cameras at an international conference. But the answer from Washington was not comforting. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice simply said that Israel needed some time to fight "terrorism". This "some time" was 33 days in which Israel shelled the people and the country with around 100,000 rockets that destroyed entire neighborhoods and killed thousands of people, left one million Lebanese citizens homeless and destroyed more than 30 towns and villages.
There are two ways to explain American conduct during that war: Washington was powerless to stop the war, or else it did not want to stop it. Either way, why should Syria trust the Americans after it proved that it walks blindly behind Zionist whims and desires?
In the case of Annapolis, the preparations show that this is a repetition of the same scenario. A peace conference is organized to gather adversaries. There is no point in holding a conference where a party to the conflict can attend only after accepting a biased precondition. If the organizers of the conference fail to host all the parties to the conflict, then the conference is doomed to failure and the project will be stillborn.
The minimum condition for success would have been to have the conference held under the banner of the Arab peace initiative. This initiative was endorsed in Beirut and marks the best opportunity to achieve peace. If American officials had a minimal level of objective understanding of the region, they would have realized that the Arab peace initiative is a project of Arab rulers. The masses would reject it. It thus provides a rare opportunity for the US to endorse an Arab peace plan with governments ready and willing to implement it over the wishes of their people.
At Annapolis they want to exclude and ignore Syria, Iran and the resistance. Regardless of any ideological position vis-a- vis resistance, any simple reading of the political map should confirm that the absence of the aforementioned parties will not produce any peace on this earth, especially if the message sent to them indicates that they are the targets of such a meeting and that paralyzing the resistance is the meeting's ultimate goal.
In order to cloud the issue the Americans might--note "might"--announce that they will invite Syria but without opening the file of the Golan Heights. This means only one thing. Syria is being invited to come but not be there. Therefore, it is very logical to see Syria refusing to participate in the conference under current conditions. Syria, its government, parliament and people will not regret not attending such a meeting and it will be more honorable for Syrians to talk from a distance rather than attend a "peace" meeting lacking a single component for success.- Published 8/11/2007 © bitterlemons- international.org
Mohammad Habash is a member of the Syrian parliament.
Jordan and the "last chance conference"
Oraib Al Rantawi
Of all the countries in the region, Jordan has been the most enthusiastic and active in the course of the past two years in calling to exploit what could be considered "the last chance for peace in the region". This position gained additional momentum following US President George W. Bush's speech last July in which he expressed his desire to host an "international meeting" for peace this autumn.
The Jordanian perspective, which supports the Bush initiative, is based on a number of considerations of which two are particularly important. First, solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in its various aspects and establishing a viable Palestinian state is a goal in and of itself that will positively impact both Jordan's and the region's security and stability. And second, solving this conflict will contribute to enhancing the position of the Arab moderate camp and lessening the influence of extremist forces in the region-- Iran, Syria, Hizballah, Hamas and radical fundamentalist movements--that are considered by decision-making institutions in Jordan as threats to both Jordanian national security and regional stability.
Like the Palestinian Authority and some Arab countries, Jordan believes that the conference should come up with a document that outlines a clear plan to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and sets out a series of steps necessary to establish a viable Palestinian state and ensure Israel's security.
But Jordan's great enthusiasm for the conference is accompanied by caution and wariness regarding the consequences of once again missing an opportunity for peace. Recently it was noticed that official Jordanian statements accompanying the faltering preliminary negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis tend to lower expectations and repeatedly warn of the risks arising from the failure of the Annapolis conference, which would affect the entire region and not only Palestinians and Israelis.
Some Jordanian newspapers have recently expressed surprise at the optimistic climate generated by certain Palestinian officials concerning Annapolis. They wonder whether the Palestinians are planning to present the Jordanian leadership with an "Oslo-2-like" surprise that could jeopardize Jordan's interests in final settlement negotiations. This has prompted some journalists and newspapers to talk about "coldness" in relations between Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian National Authority, and the Jordanian leadership.
Jordanian political sources identify Jordan's basic interests in final settlement negotiations as the refugee issue, Jerusalem, security arrangements, water and the future of economic cooperation. Jordan hosts 40 percent of all Palestinian refugees, who account for more than half its population. It is committed to guard religious and holy sites in East Jerusalem under the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty. It is interested in the water issue due to its financial deficit, and in economic cooperation and financial assistance that would enable it to rehabilitate a large portion of Palestinian refugees. This is in addition of course to issues of common security in light of the dangers resulting from the growing role of fundamentalist forces and Islamic movements in Jordan, Palestine and the rest of the region.
Given all these considerations, there is a growing interest in Jordan in the preliminary negotiations now in progress between Palestinians and Israelis, accompanied by growing concern over their possible failure. There are also warnings of the consequences of ignoring Jordan's interests in the final settlement, accompanied by calls to engage Jordan in the negotiations at an early stage so that it can explain its position, present its demands and defend its interests.
Jordan also views the Annapolis conference from a regional perspective as an expression of moderate Arabs' joint interest in pursuing regional peace and dealing with extremists who are trying to impose their agenda on the region. In this context, Jordanian diplomacy prefers to coordinate its steps with those Arab parties now joined in the "Arab quartet", which in addition to Jordan comprises Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, the Palestinian Authority and the Lebanese government.
Jordanian diplomacy also seeks to guarantee the support of a large number of Islamic countries for the Annapolis conference, with the aim of providing an Arab and Islamic "safety net" for Palestinian negotiators. This explains the phone calls and visits of Jordan's King Abdullah with the leaders of Indonesia, Turkey and Pakistan, with the aim of encouraging them to participate in the autumn conference.
Decision-making circles in Jordan believe that the success of the Annapolis conference in taking steps along the path to a final settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would remove the "Palestinian card" from the political auction block, where it is used for purposes that serve the interests of parties from Iran and Syria to Hizballah and al-Qaeda and that neglect and often contradict the interests of the Palestinian people.
Jordanian diplomacy seems convinced that wide circles in the US administration, specifically in the State Department, share the Jordanian and moderate Arab vision that stresses the need to solve the Palestinian issue in all its aspects, regardless of the direction of American policy in Iraq, the outcome of the Iranian nuclear program crisis or the state of relations between Washington and Tehran. Although Jordanian decision- making circles take into consideration that the United States might have a hidden agenda behind its call to hold the Annapolis conference--one seeking to mobilize Islamic and Arab countries' support for the US in Iraq and/or in its confrontation with Iran--these circles think that Annapolis is an opportunity that should be seized regardless.
For all these reasons, Jordanian diplomacy is paying special attention to Annapolis. It seeks through various channels to help both the Palestinians and Israelis reach a common document as a basis for a final settlement. It also believes, for the same reasons, that the failure of the conference to reach the desired results will strengthen the position of Hamas against Abbas in Palestine as well as that of Hizballah and its allies in fighting Siniora's government and its allies in Lebanon. Failure will also strengthen the position of Iran and the influence of forces of extremism and fanaticism, giving them new pretexts to pursue their activities and win the support and sympathy of the frustrated and angry Arab and Islamic public.- Published 8/11/2007 © bitterlemons- international.org.
Oraib Al Rantawi is a media columnist and director of the Al Quds Center for Political Studies in Amman.
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