Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Perpectives on Annapolis

Several Israelis, Americans, moderate Arabs and one Palestinian journalist living in Gaza offer divers viewpoints on the malformed "peace conference" in Annapolis. Topics include the tactic of using the conference as a weapon against Iran and the effect of excluding Hamas. Iran.

Daniel Ayalon, the former Israeli ambassador, told Jewish Telegraph Agency, “There is a strong American interest and Israeli interest and regional government interest in changing the dynamics and isolating

Daniel Dombey of the Financial Times notes that the US is still fighting Hamas and Hizbollah as well as Iran. “Patrick Clawson, at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, argues that the US is partly seeking to build 'a coalition of moderates against radicals' – with radicals being understood as Hamas, Hizbollah and, above all, Iran.” editorial in the Jerusalem Post writes that "the process that Annapolis seeks to launch will be inherently conditional on Western success against the Iranian challenge ... The idea that holding an Arab-Israeli peace summit would be a setback for Iran is a valid one." The more liberal Ha'aretz went even further by stating the goal of the Annapolis conference to be the formation of a "global coalition against Iran".

Similarly, in the US a number of pundits have painted Annapolis as a "means of sorts of cementing a coalition against Iran and its allies", to paraphrase Tamar Cofman Wittes of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy. According to Cofman and a host of media pundits paraded on American television news programs, Annapolis is President George W Bush's wakeup call to the world on the "Iran threat" (Afrasiabi ATol Nov 27 07).

It took Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan to observe that

The western attitude to Hamas and its translation into action by western governments has not been even-handed. There are groups similar to Hamas in Israel, among western Jews and also among Christians - and for that matter among many religious denominations and political persuasions. But that does not mean that all of the members of such a group are extremists nor does it mean that some of their extreme views cannot be negotiated. Yet, while Hamas is condemned and boycotted by all, similar groups such as those mentioned above are supported in the west, both by the private and public sectors. Legitimising everything that is done on one side and demonising everything that is done by the other side is a historically failed recipe for peace. Even-handedness is a much-needed prescription to address the complicated issues of conflict.

American opnion is not completely oblivious to the decisive effect of omitting the Palestinian's elected government. Haim Malka, Deputy Director, Center for Strategic and International Studies Middle East Program suggests it is “wishful thinking that so-called moderate Palestinian forces will be strong enough to overpower hardliners and enforce a final agreement.”

Although, like others, he sees Hamas as potential spoilers, he argues that “a long term cease-fire stands a better chance of success than pushing for a comprehensive agreement that neither side is capable of implementing.” Ironically, that is the approach that Hamas has had on offer since it was elected in 2006.

Malka reasons that “A long-term cease-fire that includes Hamas can create immediate progress without requiring unrealistic concessions on the core issues of Jerusalem and refugees. In the interim, a number of options, including those outlined in the "road map," can be explored, setting the stage for more serious negotiations on final status issues in the future.”

He believes that so-called Palestinian moderates “have little legitimacy and represent a small clique who feed off the largesse of the international community....all efforts should focus on pushing Palestinians to work together.” (Malka CSIS Nov 27 07).

Tehran analyst, Elias Hazrati cites "substantial reduction of radical and offensive positions in Iran's foreign policy during the past few months" as reason to believe that "The road for compromise with Tehran is open" too. (Afrasiabi Atol Nov 27 07)

Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, said his country would not recognize Israel until it had achieved peace with the Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. He also rejected recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.

"There are 1.5 million civilians in Israel who do not define themselves as Jewish," Adel al-Jubeir told reporters. "We do not believe states should define themselves according to religion or ethnicity."

He dismissed calls for a handshake as premature.

Bush, intent on using the conference to target its adversaries, said,
"The people of Lebanon can know that the American people stand with them, and we look forward to the day when the people of Lebanon can enjoy the blessings of liberty without fear of violence or coercion."

Afrasiabi warns that such tactics are likely to have wider implications.

the Iraq Study Group report closely linked the fate of Iraq with the Arab-Israeli peace process and, in hindsight, a fruitless conference in Annapolis, that is, one that would be exploited by the US and Israel to deflect attention from the core issues by focusing on Iran, will likely have negative ramifications for Iraq's security.

Ron Kampeas of the JTA writes that the “most striking concession” at the Annaoplis talks was the American agreement “to become the sole arbiter of peace agreements between the sides.”

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, the Palestinian delegation spokesman, said the Palestinians would have preferred the Quartet, but were willing to settle on the Americans alone on Israel's insistence. The critical issue, he said, was having a third party. "The Americans are willing to do it alone," he said.

Kampeas reports that the Europeans “were unhappy at having been written out of a process that they, more than any other party, are underwriting in terms of funding the Palestinian Authority.”

Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, insisted that it was "absolutely necessary to establish an international follow-up mechanism that monitors progress in the negotiations among the parties, as well as the implementation of commitments made."

Kampeas guessed that “the United States alone was not likely to meet the Saudi's definition of 'international.'"
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, cited U.N. Resolution 194, passed in 1949 and calling for the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes, as a basis for the talks.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert cited Bush's April 2004 letter to Israel rejecting such a return as a basis for negotiations.

Afrasiabi: “Egypt and Saudi Arabia, that have made clear their unwillingness to go along with the Bush administration's division of the Middle East into 'moderate' versus 'radical' camps.” (ATol Nov 27 07).

The risk to the US and Israel of failure in Annapolis: If there is not substantive progress, the net result will be a publicity success for Iran and Hamas.

The risk in Gaza is not so much. Laila El-Haddad is a Palestinian journalist who divides her time between Gaza and the United States, where her husband, a Palestinian refugee denied his right of return to Palestine, lives. Her blog, Raising Yousouf Unplugged, is about the trials of raising their son between Gaza and the US, while working as a journalist, and everything that entails from potty training to border crossings.

“Even in the worst of times,” [begins her entry for yesterday] “there's one thing we're never short of in our troubled part of the world: another conference, meeting, declaration, summit, agreement.”

She quotes the poet Mahmoud Darwish: We have become a people constantly preparing for the dawn in the darkness of cellars lit by our enemies.

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