Haaretz (Editorial)
November 26, 2007 - 1:08pm

U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice can chalk up an important achievement with the Annapolis summit that begins tomorrow: The Arab countries acceded to the American request and are taking part in the conference with a high profile, let alone taking part. Foreign ministers and not ambassadors will represent them. This decision's significance goes beyond Arab backing for the Palestinians, or a pat on the back for the American president, whose stature is eroding greatly in the region.

The Arab countries' decision should be interpreted as full involvement in the process in the hope of jump-starting a comprehensive peace process, part of which will be talks on withdrawal from the Golan Heights, as per the Syrian demand. The Arab countries thus make clear they see their inclusion in the Annapolis summit as an inseparable part of their resolutions at the 2002 Arab summit in Beirut, which became known as the "Arab initiative." This initiative proposes normalization with Israel in exchange for full withdrawal from the occupied territories and finding a just solution to the refugee problem.

The Arab initiative, which was born in Saudi Arabia, marked a historic turning point where the Arab countries agreed to treat the Israeli-Arab conflict as a political conflict and not an ideological one; as a conflict whose solution can no longer be found in changing "holy scriptures," but rather in the determination of the leaders in Israel, Palestine and Syria to propose concessions in exchange for full peace. In the face of the Arab initiative, Israel continues to present a number of worrisome obstacles such as the demand to recognize it as a Jewish state, and its insistence on a gradual application of the road map. The road map has already proven to be a minefield fatal to the peace process; a new mechanism to continue the process should be found that is more efficient and productive.
The inclusion of the Arabs requires Israel to deal seriously with the Syrian track. This is a significant Arab attempt to pull Syria out of the circle of "rejectionist states," as the U.S. administration calls them, and bring it into the fold of nations ready to team up with moderate Arab states, against the Iranian threat. It is advised not to mix these two matters. Peace with Syria is of supreme importance even if Damascus continues to maintain close ties with Iran. In any case, it will be Iran and its ally in Lebanon who will find themselves in a dilemma if their ally signs a treaty with Israel. Israel's close ties to Turkey, which has a strong relationship with Iran, show that preconditions like this are not necessarily a requirement.

The Annapolis summit per se may not produce more than a declaration of intent. But placing it firmly on the Arab agenda, and not only on the Israeli-Palestinian agenda, is essential for it to continue. The invitation of the parties to carry on the dialogue in Egypt is a proper first step. The inclusion of Syria under Arab pressure is an important move, and so is the necessity of viewing the Arab countries as holding a promise of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.


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