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Old 11-27-2007, 11:28 PM   #1
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The Annapolis Conference

Quote:
Rhetoric and reality: Bush's battle for the future of the Middle East

by Ian Black
The Guardian (UK), November 28


ANNAPOLIS -- George Bush told the Annapolis summit yesterday that a battle was under way for the future of the Middle East as events on the ground underlined the difficulties ahead for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that were relaunched after seven years. Iran, on cue, said it had developed a new long-range ballistic missile, while thousands of supporters of the Islamist movement Hamas protested in Gaza, chanting "Death to America", "Death to Israel" and scorning the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, as a "collaborator". In the West Bank, Palestinian security forces shot dead a demonstrator.

Bush came to the US naval academy to portray his support for revived "final status" negotiations between Abbas and Ehud Olmert, Israel's prime minister, against the background of a broader regional struggle. "We must not cede victory to the extremists," he said.

In the Maryland winter sunshine, all was carefully choreographed. "Today, Palestinians and Israelis each understand that helping the other to realise their aspirations is the key to realising their own, and both require an independent, democratic, viable Palestinian state," said Bush. "The time is right, the cause is just and with hard effort I know they can succeed."

Analysts say the key to any future peace process is the degree to which the US, EU and others will be prepared to intervene, hold the parties to their commitments, and bridge gaps when disagreements arise. It is far from clear that Bush is prepared to play that role.

Abbas restated key demands for the removal of Israel's West Bank settlements, roadblocks, the separation wall and the release of thousands of prisoners--all difficult for Olmert to implement while keeping his shaky coalition government together. "We need East Jerusalem to be our capital," Abbas said. War and terrorism "belong to the past". "Neither we nor you must beg for peace from the other. It is a joint interest...Peace and freedom is a right for us, just as peace and security is a right for you and us," he added.

Olmert, who, like the Palestinian president, is facing powerful opposition at home, spoke to his own people as much to the other leaders. "I had many good reasons to refrain from coming to this meeting," he said. "I do not ignore all the obstacles which are sure to emerge along the way." He denounced Palestinian terrorism and the Qassam rockets being fired from Gaza. Unusually, he also acknowledged the suffering of Palestinians "living in camps, disconnected from the environment in which they grew up, wallowing in poverty, neglect, alienation, bitterness and a deep sense of deprivation".

Expectations for Annapolis were kept so low that any vaguely positive achievement would have been impressive. But months of US-brokered diplomacy could not produce a promised joint declaration on the ultra-sensitive "core" issues that have to be negotiated--borders, settlements, Jerusalem and refugees.

Instead they announced, as expected, the immediate resumption of talks on creating an independent Palestinian state by the end of next year, when Bush is due to leave office. These are to be overseen by a permanent bilateral steering committee and will begin in earnest on December 12. The issues remain as tough and intractable as ever. "We agreed to immediately launch good faith, bilateral negotiations in order to conclude a peace treaty resolving all outstanding issues, including core issues, without exception," Bush said, reading the agreed statement.

The Annapolis conference was the biggest of its kind since the Madrid summit of 1991. The 14 Arab participants included Saudi Arabia, represented by its foreign minister, taking part in the kingdom's first public meeting with Israel.

"It is time to end the boycott and alienation toward the state of Israel," Olmert said. "I have no doubt that the reality created in our region in 1967 will change significantly. While this will be an extremely difficult process for many of us, it is nevertheless inevitable. I know it. Many of my people know it. We are ready for it."
So, what were your impressions? Another empty exchange of lofty-sounding intentions with no will or wherewithal behind them? A hopeful, if perilously ill-defined, renewed push towards substantive diplomacy backed(?) by Bush and likely binding on his successor? Fear of rising Iranian influence providing the motivating jolt of a common perceived enemy, but not a common strategic agenda? [Choose one or more: Olmert/Abbas/Bush] shows once again why he neither commands nor deserves the majority support of his own people? Wake you up when it's over, because you know you won't miss a thing?

I'm mildly impressed that they committed (sort of) to a timeframe, but that's about it. I actually agree to a point with the Bush Administration's repeated assertion (disclaimer?) that leaning too hard on either party in an attempt to force through compromises is likely to backfire; on the other hand, if they think they can just settle for playing facilitator without pressing for real mutual accountability and actively working to, as the article put it, "bridge gaps" in negotiations, there's no way this is going to work. And--though this much was expected--the "joint understanding" document only underlined how far apart the two sides still are on the big issues: right of return; final borders; Jerusalem; settlements; and the reality that peaceful mutual independence would entail a great deal of interdependence as well.
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Old 11-28-2007, 12:11 PM   #2
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I'm not sure this President has enough credibility to have much impact. I listen to the language he uses and it is so interchangeable with all the other speeches he makes, it indicates he has no deep understanding of the problem. I think perhaps we can take a more credible role when another President is in office--maybe, depending.

I liked some of Abbas' speech, but do not know him well enough to know what drives him and it doesn't appear that he will have significant support from his own people.

All that being said, I always take some small hope when talks begin. We'll see soon enough, I guess, whether there is will behind the language, whether all parties are willing to engage in a long process. Perhaps a mutually perceived enemy can be a catalyst.

This may be the US's last real chance at facilitating. But as yolland pointed out, the responsibilities are much greater than moderating. I think too it will involve the US taking on unfamiliar co-partners in this process such as the EU.
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Old 11-28-2007, 01:28 PM   #3
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I'm sure the PR advantage of the timetable for Bush (if it were to be miraculously met) is not lost on the parties.
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Old 11-28-2007, 02:19 PM   #4
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I'm very pessimistic about the whole thing. I doubt there will be any real progress made.
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Old 11-28-2007, 03:30 PM   #5
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Re: The Annapolis Conference

I heard something on the news yesterday about how Bush totally botched the pronunciation of both leaders' names .

Anywho...

Quote:
Originally posted by yolland
I actually agree to a point with the Bush Administration's repeated assertion (disclaimer?) that leaning too hard on either party in an attempt to force through compromises is likely to backfire; on the other hand, if they think they can just settle for playing facilitator without pressing for real mutual accountability and actively working to, as the article put it, "bridge gaps" in negotiations, there's no way this is going to work.
Exactly. We have to stop playing favorites and we have to acknowledge both the shortcomings AND the positives in both sides. Once both sides feel less alienated, and once they see that we're not just making one side out to be the bad guy, that might help make things easier. I don't see Bush doing that anytime soon, but perhaps his successor might be able to handle that better.

Like BonosSaint said, the fact that everyone bothered to meet up and talk at all is a good thing. The fact that Olmert mentioned how wrong it was to see Palestinians suffering, and the fact that Abbas made it clear that peace, freedom, and security were important to BOTH sides, is a good thing. I didn't hear any of this, so I don't know how sincere either leader sounded, but reading this, I would like to think that both men sounded like they meant what they said. And I'd like to think more people in their part of the world support them than they, or we, realize. I'll remain optimistic-this won't be easy at all, no question. There'll be lots of danger and bumps along the way. But if this gets at least a little bit of positive change for everybody down the line, it's a start.

Angela
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