Arab News (Editorial)
November 26, 2007 - 1:02pm§ion=0&article=103991&d=26&m=11&y=2007

President Bush probably saved his blushes when announcing that the Arab-Israeli conflict would not be solved in a day and a night at Annapolis, but that a full year would be needed — basically the rest of his term — for the US to try to broker a peace. Washington hopes that the two sides work toward the establishment of an independent Palestinian state before Bush leaves office and that the negotiations will be launched at the conference in Annapolis. The US is thus giving itself more breathing space and not putting too much pressure on itself or the other parties to come up with anything big at Annapolis. It is going for what looks like an unambitious definition of success. It will be satisfied if the conference does not end in an argument, and if it can kick-start a new series of meetings between the Palestinians and Israelis that will begin trying to tackle the biggest differences they have between them, the “final status” issues.

The issues have not really changed. To reach a final solution, the parties have to agree on the borders of Israel and a state of Palestine, the future of Jerusalem, the question of Israeli settlements on the land Israel captured in the 1967 war, the right of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return to towns and villages from which they fled or were expelled in 1948. Only a deal along the lines described above stands the remotest chance of bringing permanent peace. But there has been little sign that the two sides are anywhere near agreement. From the conference, the Palestinians are hoping for a joint declaration with the Israelis on these main issues. The Palestinians were negotiating to have a joint declaration before the conference began; now they must wait until after it ends.

As Annapolis is yet another attempt to get a final Middle East settlement, it is fair to ask if this is really more about giving the appearance of progress than making progress. There is no specific Arab agenda as such, but there is a US-Israeli agenda, one which subsumes within it the agenda of pro-Western Fatah leader and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. But ironically the prospects of a major breakthrough at the conference have been dampened by both Israel and the United States.

It is easy to say that Annapolis is better than no peace initiative at all. Yet if the experience of seven years ago is anything to go by, a failure at talks on resolving the conflict can be devastating. Annapolis will be the first full-fledged Middle East peace talks since 2000, when former US President Bill Clinton hosted a meeting between leaders Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak at Camp David. The collapse of Camp David II was followed by the launch of the second Palestinian uprising and an Israeli re-invasion of large areas of the West Bank controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

In other words, the stakes at Annapolis are very high. This attempt may not work. The list of what needs to go right might just be too long. But it is worth trying, because the alternatives are far worse.


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