Dominique Vidal
Le Monde Diplomatique
November 6, 2007 - 12:55pm

“It’s time for the establishment of a Palestinian state,” announced US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice after a visit to the Middle East on 15 October. She claimed President George Bush had decided to make ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “one of the highest priorities of his administration”.

The United States is to host a conference at Annapolis, Maryland, provisionally scheduled for mid-November. But although this is being promoted as a breakthrough in the peace process, the danger is that it will merely generate new tensions. There are five reasons:

— The event itself is problematic. Originally announced in July as an international conference – diplomatic jargon for an event organised by the United Nations on the basis of its resolutions – it has been transformed into a meeting convened by the US alone.

— Its agenda remains uncertain. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, believes it should deal with the border issue, the status of Jerusalem, refugees and settlements. But Rice has suggested that any joint declaration “does not have to be detailed in order to be serious”; and this would seem to echo a remark by Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, that such a declaration has “never been a precondition for holding the summit”.

— Rice has said: “I am not certain that a timetable that says we have to complete X by Y time is where we want to go.” Maybe she has forgotten that the White House previously called for the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.

— Everything depends upon Israel’s goodwill. Although Israel has announced its readiness to hand over Arab districts in Jerusalem, it has been scrambling to confiscate land to link the city to the Maale Adumim mega-settlement. During negotiations it declared Gaza a hostile entity and threatened a total blockade; on 25 October it announced that it would cut power supplies. It promised to remove 24 barriers from the West Bank at a time when, according to the UN offices on the ground, it had erected 40 during the previous two months.

— After his failure in Lebanon and a series of scandals, is Olmert in a position to make the necessary concessions? Abbas’s legitimacy is compromised by the challenge from Hamas.

The Annapolis “peace process”, like its many predecessors in the Middle East, will fail unless the international community makes a determined effort to impose its will. Without that, Israel will break any vague promises it makes and the US will make no attempt to force it to respect them.

The US’s main aim is to seal the alliance between moderate Sunnis against Shia Iran, which some in the Bush administration still dream of attacking. The current diplomatic flurry is therefore unlikely to result in a peace accord – something, in any case, that Olmert does not anticipate for another “20 or 30 years”!


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