Tim Butcher
The Telegraph (Opinion)
November 27, 2007 - 2:01pm

America puts on a good Middle East peace summit. It must be all the practice, but whether up in the hilly presidential retreat of Camp David, in the Rose Garden outside the White House or, as will take place today, in the grounds of the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, you can be sure of a good show.

The roads around the academy will be gridlocked by swanky limousines with smoke-tinted windows, protected by legions of security guards eyeing up proceedings from behind wrap-round sunglasses. We already know the security is tight because the fitness freaks of Annapolis have complained that the cordon has robbed them of their favourite jogging route through the academy grounds.

For all the world, Annapolis will look like a film set. The challenge will be to make sure Annapolis 2007 delivers something more concrete than a piece of Hollywood fiction.What infuriates many outsiders about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that we largely know what the final settlement between the two sides must consist of.

Notwithstanding the ranting of Jihadists who support the restoration of the Caliphate, or Hamas who want "every inch'' of the Holy Land returned to Palestinians, Israel is here to stay. It will stay, mostly, on the land won by Zionist fighters in 1948. The Palestinians will be left with the bits of land Israel missed in 1948 but won in 1967 - Gaza and the West Bank - and which history has arbitrarily chosen to call "the occupied territories''.

Israel's controversial policy since 1967, of trying to seed Israeli settlements on that occupied land, will cause friction. But by the time the remote settlements have been closed and the large ones close to the pre-1967 frontier included into Israel, while Israel gives up a commensurate patch of land elsewhere, we will be back to the same basic reality.

The future state of Palestine will basically comprise the West Bank and Gaza and, after 60 years of fluidity, Israel will finally get fixed borders, running around both those parcels of land. Their troops will, in theory, no longer need to tread the dusty and dangerous ground of enemy territory.

There remain other deeply troublesome issues. For many Israelis, the idea of dividing Jerusalem and transferring the eastern, predominantly Arab areas to the future Palestine is a betrayal of the Bible.

And for Palestinians, similar emotional pain will be involved in giving up the "right of return'', the article of faith kept sacred by Palestinian families made refugees from homes in land staked by Israel in 1948, by which they would one day go home. There is simply no way millions of Palestinian refugees can be accommodated inside Israel for a whole range of political, economic and demographic reasons.

The simplest solution will be to lavish those refugees with compensation and hope that one day the two states, Israel and Palestine, will be such peaceful neighbours that those who still want to go back can do so without posing a threat to the character of Israel.

So while the character of the final settlement has been largely known for years, the great problem for all sides is the lack of will to get there.

For years the Israelis doggedly refused to accept that Palestinians existed as a people with any rights to a homeland. Those were the days when it was Israel against the Arabs, and the planning assumption from the Israeli leadership was that the Arab world would mop up their Muslim co-claimants to the Holy Land. It took a leap of will but Israel got there in the end and it now accepts the right of a Palestinian state to exist.

Similarly, for years the Palestinian leadership under Yasser Arafat could not countenance a Jewish homeland on what he saw as Palestinian land. He was infamously mealy mouthed when he eventually did recognise Israel in the 1990s but the same cannot be said of Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat's replacement as Fatah leader. His recognition of Israel is unequivocal.

The problem is that more willpower needs to be shown. Israel must be willing to reward non-militant Palestinians by easing the conditions under which they live in Gaza and the West Bank. And Mr Abbas must show he is willing to take the tough decisions to create a meaningful Palestinian security structure capable not just of grumbling about Israel but of tackling militants and offering the security guarantees that Israel deserves.

It is not just the two main protagonists who need to show willing at Annapolis - and the fact that so many Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia and Syria, have sent representatives to Annapolis is a good start. But the key figure, as he enters his last year in office, is President George W Bush.

He must show the willpower to lean on both sides. The success of Annapolis will not be measured in photographed handshakes or statements of intent but in whether all sides leave the academy genuinely willing to begin meaningful negotiations towards the final settlement that is so largely known.

Unless they do, Annapolis 2007 will be viewed as just another opportunity for America to brush up its peace summitry.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017