Shmuel Rosner
Haaretz (Opinion)
October 31, 2007 - 5:32pm

n September 13, 1993, when the Oslo Accords were signed, president Bill Clinton called the day "a great occasion of history and hope." The ceremony's participants mentioned the word "hope" 21 times in their speeches. Even the normally dry Warren Christopher, then secretary of state, tried to produce some excitement, saying the negotiators' courage gave hope that they would "complete the journey that has been begun today."

If the signing of the Oslo Accords in Washington was the summit of hope, and the 2000 Camp David Summit was the conference of despair, then the international conference due to take place next month at Annapolis will be the summit of fear. There's the Iranian danger, the worrisome arms smuggling into Gaza and the fear that the window of opportunity is closing, to be followed by a radicalization of Palestinian politics. There's also the "quite troubling" Iranian influence on Palestinian terrorists. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned the House Committee on Foreign Affairs about all of the above last week.

So a shared fear of failure rather than hope for success is propelling the relevant parties toward Annapolis. That fear is multifaceted. Palestinian officials warn against a summit that would fail to meet the Palestinians' expectations, prompting Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to resign. This would result in governmental chaos, the Palestinians warn.

Israeli intelligence officials, meanwhile, warn of Hamas' penetration into the West Bank. Some Jordanians are worried that Hamas' presence there would cause the Hamas revolution to seep into the Hashemite Kingdom. Those and other concerns make up the jigsaw of American fears.

Rice calls the sum of concerns "context," but in fact it's just another name for the old "linkage factor" - a theory that links the outcome of American mediation in the peace process to possible regional ramifications.

Hamas is a relatively small and secondary factor in the axis of evil, whose head, Tehran, rests on Damascus serving as the neck, while standing on Hezbollah's fortifications around the Litani River. Rice, whose education and experience pertain to the Cold War, is now reverting to the domino theory, which sees Gaza as a block that might cause other blocks to fall. The fight she is putting up for Abbas is a defensive battle of that old variety.

And that is one of the reasons the Americans are not reining in Israel regarding the discussions about cutting off supplies to Gaza. The threat of Mr. Hamas, as Rice's aide David Welsh calls the group, extending its influence is pivotal to Washington's appreciation of the threats inherent to the peace process' possible collapse.

If cutting off Gaza's power could help diminish popular support for Hamas by a couple more percent, the Americans would be the last to complain. It was no coincidence that Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced the move a week after returning from a visit to Washington.

Fear of failure is a strong motivation, but it has its disadvantages. For example, it makes it harder for leaders to present the public with a positive, hopeful vision. This results in public indifference to the preparations for the conference.

The American mediators have to address another inherent difficulty, a double fear factor. A recent Gallup poll revealed that 83 percent of Palestinians have little admiration for the American leadership. Rice, who is trying to make the Palestinians understand the threat if her efforts fail, also has to defuse their fear of the administration she represents.

One way of allaying the Palestinians' suspicions would be to opt for a real or simulated conflict with Israel. But that would only serve to create suspicion from the Israeli side. A recent survey by the Peace Index Project found that most Jews oppose allowing the U.S. to act as the arbiter on which concession each party should make if the negotiations reach a stalemate.

To cross that line, Rice will need President George W. Bush to reaffirm his backing.


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