Analyzing Annapolis

Peace and Politics in Annapolis

Council on Foreign Relations,  November 27, 2007

Author: Michael Moran

The time may or may not be right, and progress may or may not ensue. But on Monday, for the first time in sixteen years, representatives of the Arab world, Israel, and a host of other interested parties convened under U.S. auspices to talk about peace. President Bush, meeting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ahead of the November 26 opening dinner, pronounced himself optimistic about the talks, and repeated the sentiment in later talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Bush offered a hopeful toast opening the ceremonial dinner Monday evening, saying “we share a common goal: two democratic states—Israel and Palestine—living side by side in peace and security.” News reports indicated that Israeli and Palestinian followed the dinner by working through the night in an attempt to narrow differences (AFP) and craft a joint peace statement ahead of negotiations.

Since issuing invitations last week, the administration has claimed a victory of sorts in that all invitees decided to attend, even Saudi Arabia, the subject of a public appeal (Al Bawaba) by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to reject the conference. The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, tells TIME his country holds out hope for progress, but his attendance should not be misinterpreted as a sign of an impending deal. “It is a very simple equation. Either Israel wants peace or territory. It can’t have both.”

Indeed, progress proved harder on concrete issues as the Israeli and Palestinian foreign ministers attempted, right up to the opening of the conference, to reach agreement on a joint declaration meant as a starting point for talks (JPost). Critics seized upon this difficulty as evidence that the Annapolis conference is ill conceived. CFR President Richard N. Haass repeatedly has warned that the time may not be ripe for such an effort, and of the very real cost of failure. “Ripeness has several elements: there must be a formula for the parties involved to adopt, a diplomatic process to get them to that point, and protagonists who are able and willing to make a deal.” Haass sees none of these elements in place. A Philadephia Inquirer analysis looks at the potential pitfalls, violent and otherwise, of impasse in Annapolis.

Territorial issues aside, the political weakness of the summit’s major players also raised eyebrows. The upcoming 2008 presidential election limits the Bush administration’s options, as the quick criticism (TPMCafe) of the Annapolis conference by GOP candidates shows. Suspicions of “legacy” seeking, too, invariably arose. Aaron David Miller, a Middle East expert and adviser to six secretaries of state, says Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wants a Mideast deal because (BaltSun) “she’s about a year or so away from being judged as a kind of inconsequential secretary of state.”

The position of Abbas’ government, shorn of the Gaza Strip by the radical Hamas movement last summer, can hardly be described as solid. Abbas issued a statement last Monday which stopped just short of calling for an uprising against Hamas (al-Jazeera), a group whose suicide bombers played a large role in ruining the last serious peace initiative, the Oslo process of the 1990s. In Israel, meanwhile, Olmert faces intense pressure not to make further concessions from his domestic coalition partners. His preconference decision to release some Palestinians held by Israel, and to give twenty-five armored cars to Abbas’ overmatched security forces, were derided (Ynet) by one foe as “lubricating the wheels of terror.”

Through all this, supporters of the summit argue that inaction is not an option. Rice countered those who argue that Abbas and Olmert (and even Bush) lack the political clout needed to move forward, or that the effort is motivated by “legacy” considerations. “There are a lot easier things to do to get a photo op than try to get Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate seriously for the first time in seven years.” Indeed, British analyst Bronwen Maddox suggests the time may be right precisely because all sides feel a sense of “threat and urgency” (Times of London). Haaretz correspondent Bradley Burston, annoyed by the preconference gloom, responded with a contrarian’s wish list: “Nine Reasons Annapolis Will Succeed.” 

Source: Council on Foreign Relations

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