Annapolis Analysed

Update from AIJAC

November 29, 2007
Number 11/07 #11

With the Annapolis conference now finished, and having gone more or less as predicted – providing the basis of a negotiating process rather than a major peace breakthrough – this Update looks at the statements made, and the way forward.

To read the brief statement put out by the parties, outlining the negotiating process they envisage, CLICK HERE.

Next up is Israeli PM Ehud Olmert’s speech at Annapolis, in which he acknowledged Palestinian suffering, and promised to “to make a painful compromise, rife with risks” to obtain peace. He also stresses the importance of a genuine two-state solution, and the role he hopes Arab states will play. To read it all, CLICK HERE. PA President Abbas’ speech, which also reached out to Israelis, promising peaceful coexistence, (amid the usual Palestinian demands) is here, while US President Bush’s speech on the outcome is here.

Next up, the always insightful Dr. Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy parses closely the words of the various participants, with a particular emphasis on what President Bush had to say. He notes that the Israeli-Palestinian joint statement has been mostly reported for the goal it sets of a deal by the end of 2008, but argues that the most significant aspect of it is actually what it says about the relationship between the roadmap interim arrangements and the final status negotiations. He also says it is clear from his words that Bush “will not be throwing the dice on a gamble to achieve a legacy of success in the Middle East peace process in the final year of his presidency.” That is, he will be supporting progress, but not making an all-out make-or-break personal effort to try to finish off a deal  by the end of his term in office. Satloff has many more salient observations, and to read them all, CLICK HERE. Some additional comment on what was said by the various parties at the conference comes from American academic and editor Marty Peretz. Peretz also had some salient comments recently comparing Professor Bernard Lewis’ recent column on the essential problems of the peace process, reprinted in the last Update, with one from New York Times columnist Roger Cohen.

Finally, the British-Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM) has published another good backgrounder on what to look for in the months ahead to build on the success at Annapolis. The piece, written before the conclusion of the conference but still relevant in its aftermath, looks at the ways in which the conference represents a positive milestone, the Iranian threat as an imperative driving negotiations and a possible positive Arab role, and the importance of trying to make peace without waiting for perfect conditions which may never come. For all these important points and more, CLICK HERE. Also writing just before the meeting about how to make its aftermath a success was former Middle East mediator Dennis Ross. More analysis of the challenges after Annapolis comes from Jerusalem Post editor David Horovitz.

Readers may also be interested in:

Israeli-Palestinian Statement at Annapolis

(As read out by US President George W. Bush, Nov. 27, 2007, Annapolis, Md.)

Source: US State Department website

The representatives of the government of the state of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, represented respective by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and President Mahmoud Abbas in his capacity as Chairman of the PLO Executive Committee and President of the Palestinian Authority, have convened in Annapolis, Maryland, under the auspices of President George W. Bush of the United States of America, and with the support of the participants of this international conference, having concluded the following joint understanding.

We express our determination to bring an end to bloodshed, suffering and decades of conflict between our peoples; to usher in a new era of peace, based on freedom, security, justice, dignity, respect and mutual recognition; to propagate a culture of peace and nonviolence; to confront terrorism and incitement, whether committed by Palestinians or Israelis. In furtherance of the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security, we agree to immediately launch good-faith bilateral negotiations in order to conclude a peace treaty, resolving all outstanding issues, including all core issues, without exception, as specified in previous agreements.

We agree to engage in vigorous, ongoing and continuous negotiations, and shall make every effort to conclude an agreement before the end of 2008. For this purpose, a steering committee, led jointly by the head of the delegation of each party, will meet continuously, as agreed. The steering committee will develop a joint work plan and establish and oversee the work of negotiations teams to address all issues, to be headed by one lead representative from each party. The first session of the steering committee will be held on 12 December 2007.

President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert will continue to meet on a bi-weekly basis to follow up the negotiations in order to offer all necessary assistance for their advancement.

The parties also commit to immediately implement their respective obligations under the performance-based road map to a permanent two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, issued by the Quartet on 30 April 2003 — this is called the road map — and agree to form an American, Palestinian and Israeli mechanism, led by the United States, to follow up on the implementation of the road map.

The parties further commit to continue the implementation of the ongoing obligations of the road map until they reach a peace treaty. The United States will monitor and judge the fulfillment of the commitment of both sides of the road map. Unless otherwise agreed by the parties, implementation of the future peace treaty will be subject to the implementation of the road map, as judged by the United States.

Text of Ehud Olmert speech

JTA, 11/27/2007

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (JTA) — The following is a text of Tuesday’s address by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the Middle East peace conference, as provided by the Federal News Service. It was translated from Hebrew:

President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas,
Heads of delegations,
Distinguished guests,

I came here today from Jerusalem at your invitation, Honorable President, to extend, on behalf of the people of Israel and the State of Israel, a hand in peace to the Palestinian people and to our neighboring Arab states, many of whose representatives are here with us in Annapolis.

I had many good reasons to refrain from coming to this meeting.

The memory of the failures of the near and distant past weighs heavy on us. The dreadful terrorism perpetrated by Palestinian terrorist organizations has affected thousands of Israeli citizens, destroyed families and attempted to disrupt the lives of all the citizens of Israel. I witnessed it personally during my term as Mayor of Jerusalem, at times of bombings at cafes, buses and recreational centers in Jerusalem and other cities in the State of Israel.

The continued shooting of Kassam rockets against tens of thousands of residents in the south of Israel, particularly in the city of Sderot, serves as a warning sign — one which cannot be overlooked. The absence of governmental institutes and effective law-enforcement mechanisms, the rule of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the ongoing activity of murderous organizations throughout all the territories of the Palestinian Authority, the absence of a legal system which meets the basic criteria of a democratic government — all these are factors which deter us from moving forward too hastily.

I do not ignore all the obstacles which are sure to emerge along the way. They are right in front of me. I came here, despite the concerns and doubts and hesitations, to say to you, President Mahmoud Abbas, and through you, to your people and to the entire Arab world: It is time. We no longer, and you no longer, have the privilege of clinging to dreams which are disconnected from the sufferings of our peoples, the hardships they experience daily and the burden of living under ongoing uncertainty, with no chance for change or hope.

We want peace. We demand an end to terror, incitement and hatred. We are willing to make a painful compromise, rife with risks, in order to realize these aspirations.

I came here today not to settle historic accounts between us on what caused the conflict and hatred and what, for many years, stood in the way of compromise and peace.

I wish to say, from the bottom of my heart, that I know and acknowledge the fact that alongside the constant suffering which many in Israel have experienced because of the history, the wars, the terror and the hatred towards us — a suffering which has always been part of our lives in our land — your people have also suffered for many years, and some still suffer.

For dozens of years, many Palestinians have been living in camps, disconnected from the environment in which they grew, wallowing in poverty, neglect, alienation, bitterness, and a deep, unrelenting sense of deprivation. I know that this pain and deprivation is one of the deepest foundations which fomented the ethos of hatred towards us.

We are not indifferent to this suffering. We are not oblivious to the tragedies you have experienced. I believe that in the course of negotiations between us we will find the right way, as part of an international effort in which we will participate, to assist these Palestinians in finding a proper framework for their future, in the Palestinian state which will be established in the territories agreed upon between us. Israel will be part of an international mechanism which will assist in finding a solution to this problem.

The negotiations between us will not be here in Annapolis, but rather in our home and in yours. It will be bilateral, direct, ongoing and continuous, in an effort to complete it during the course of 2008.

It will address all the issues which have thus far been evaded. We will do it directly, openly and courageously. We will not avoid any subject, we will deal with all the core issues. 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.

The negotiations will be based on previous agreements between us, U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, the road map and the April 14, 2004 letter of President Bush to the Prime Minister of Israel.

On conclusion of the negotiations, I believe that we will be able to reach an agreement which will fulfill the vision of President Bush: two states for two peoples. A peace-seeking, viable, strong, democratic and terror-free Palestinian state for the Palestinian people. A Jewish, democratic State of Israel, living in security and free from the threat of terror — the national home of the Jewish people.

It is clear that the implementation of an agreement will be subject to the implementation of all obligations in the road map, on all its phases and according to its sequence, as concluded between us from the very beginning. We will abide by all our obligations, and so will you.

The agreement with you and its gradual implementation, cautiously and responsibly, is part of a much wider complex which will lead us, hopefully, to peace with all the Arab states. There is not a single Arab state in the north, east or south with which we do not seek peace. There is no Muslim state with which we do not want to establish diplomatic relations. Anyone who wants peace with us, we say to them, from the bottom of our hearts: welcome!

I am pleased to see here, in this hall, representatives of Arab countries, most of which do not have relations with Israel. The time has come for you as well. You cannot continue to stand by indefinitely and watch the peace train go by. It is time to end the boycott and alienation towards the State of Israel. It is not helpful for you, and it hurts us.

I am familiar with the Arab peace initiative, which was born in Riyadh, affirmed in Beirut and recently reaffirmed by you in Riyadh. I value this initiative, acknowledge its importance and highly appreciate its contribution. I have no doubt that it will be referred to in the course of the negotiations between us and the Palestinian leadership.

The Arab world represented here by many countries is a vital component in creating a new reality in the Middle East.

The peace signed between Israel and Egypt, and subsequently between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, is a solid foundation of stability and hope in our region. This peace is an example and a model of the relations which we can build with Arab states.

My close relations with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan are extremely significant for the process of building trust and understanding with the Arab states. However, these relations, as important as they may be, are not enough. We aspire for normalization with those Arab states which eschew, as much as we do, radical and frantic fundamentalism, and which seek to grant their citizens a more moderate, tolerant and prosperous world.

This is a common interest of all of us. There is a lot which separates us — memories and a heritage which do not emanate from the same historic roots, different ways of living, different customs, and our emotional, spontaneous sense of solidarity with our neighboring Arab countries, which have long been trapped in this age-old bloody conflict between us.

However, there is also a lot which brings us together. You, like us, know that religious fanaticism and national extremism are a perfect recipe for domestic instability, violence, bitterness and ultimately the disintegration of the very foundations of coexistence which is based on tolerance and mutual acceptance.

We are a tiny country with a small population, but rich in good will and with a significant ability to create a partnership which will lead to prosperity, growth, economic development and stability for the entire region.

The prospect of a new political horizon, and renewed hope, not only for Palestinians and Israelis, but also, together with you, for the entire region, can come from here, from Annapolis.

Honorable President of the United States, my colleague Mahmoud Abbas, distinguished guests, almost two years ago, under very sad circumstances, Prime Minister of Israel Ariel Sharon was no longer able to carry the heavy responsibility of leading the State of Israel, and this responsibility was passed on to me — first as a result of formal procedures, and subsequently on the basis of an election in Israel’s democratic system of government.

Prior to my election I stated that my heart’s desire and that of my people was to achieve peace, primarily with the Palestinian people. This is what I believed then and it is what I continue to believe in now, with all my heart.

The past two years have been difficult for all of us. The hardships have not been alleviated, the terror organizations have not weakened, the enemies of peace have not disappeared, and we are still anxiously awaiting the return of our missing and captive sons who are held by terror organizations. I long for the day when I can see Gilad, Eldad and Udi back with their families, and I will not falter in my efforts to achieve their release.

I believe that there is no path other than peace. I believe that there is no just solution other than the solution of two national states for two peoples. I believe that there is no path which does not involve painful compromise for you Palestinians and for us Israelis. I want to thank you, President George Bush, an ally in the path of peace, for your willingness to assist in the historic process of peace and reconciliation between us and our neighbors.

I believe it is time. We are ready. I invite you, my friend Mahmoud Abbas, and your people, to join us in this long, tormenting and complex path, for which there is no substitute.

Together we will start. Together we will arrive.


Bush at Annapolis: Hints about the Final Thirteen Months

Robert Satloff

PolicyWatch #1312
November 28, 2007
The Annapolis summit featured an impressive display of international support for renewed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Beyond the headlines and photo-ops, the most significant aspect of the event was that President Bush offered little sign he plans to devote the final months of his administration to a high-stakes personal quest for a permanent peace treaty between the two parties.
Joint Understanding
When the Annapolis meeting was first conceived months ago, it was intended to celebrate an Israeli-Palestinian agreement to sketch out a “political horizon” for establishing an independent Palestinian state at peace with Israel. Since then, objective reality intruded, forcing down the hosts’ expectations. The much more limited result was an agreement principally on process — which, to be sure, remains a critical aspect of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
According to a six-paragraph statement — termed a “joint understanding” — that President Bush read out at the beginning of his remarks, the two sides will, in two weeks, commence “vigorous, ongoing, and continuous” negotiations with the goal of reaching an accord by the end of 2008. One sign in particular pointed to the lack of significant progress between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators before Annapolis: the two sides agreed that the immediate goal was to develop a “joint work plan” for negotiations — i.e., they still have yet to define fully the scope, parameters, timetable, and modalities for these talks.
The end-of-2008 goal may garner the most headlines, but it is not the most significant aspect of the “joint understanding.” That honor goes to the statement’s final two paragraphs, which discuss the linkage between a final-status accord and implementation of the two sides’ commitments under the four-year-old Quartet Roadmap to Middle East peace. Two points are noteworthy: one, the parties agreed that the United States will “monitor and judge” the extent to which each fulfills commitments, and two, they agreed that “implementation of the future peace treaty will be subject to the implementation of the Roadmap, as judged by the United States.”
The emphasis on Washington acting as judge is significant. First, it takes the Roadmap out of the hands of the Quartet (the UN, European Union, United States, and Russia) and places sole responsibility on Washington. Second, the double use of the term “judge” suggests that the Bush administration is prepared to be more active and vocal in identifying noncompliance than it was in the past. Yet, it is not clear whether the ground rules for judging compliance are in place. Indeed, the joint understanding only noted that all parties “agree to form an American, Palestinian, and Israeli mechanism to follow up implementation of the Roadmap” — not how that mechanism would actually function.
The linkage between implementation of a future peace treaty and implementation of the Roadmap is also significant on multiple levels. The use of the term “peace treaty” is eye-catching; there is no such reference in the Roadmap itself (there it is called a “final and comprehensive permanent status agreement”), perhaps because treaties are usually reserved for agreements between states. More important, the idea that only “implementation” of a treaty is conditioned on the Roadmap suggests that the authors of the joint understanding entertained the possibility of actually reaching and ratifying an accord while delaying actual execution until the security environment is conducive. Reading between the lines, this strategy appears to be a means of working around Hamas’s control of Gaza.
Bush’s Measured Words
No less significant than the technicalities of the joint understanding was the measured message delivered by President Bush in his subsequent remarks to the Annapolis gathering. Many participants — perhaps even U.S. officials — came to Annapolis to discern for themselves the extent of personal effort, commitment, and zeal the president will place on achieving an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty before he leaves the White House. And his message was clear: the president will not be throwing the dice on a gamble to achieve a legacy of success in the Middle East peace process in the final year of his presidency.

A close reading of the president’s remarks shows that he is most concerned with changing the regional dynamic by creating an environment of progress, not necessarily a moment of achievement. He did not repeat, for example, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s famous formulation that “now is the time for a Palestinian state.” Instead, his formulation was “now is precisely the right time to begin these negotiations.” Although he pledged to Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas that he would give his “effort” to “help [them] achieve this important goal,” he stated that the job of America and all other third parties is “to encourage” and “support” the Israelis and Palestinians. Indeed, on several occasions, he underscored the fact that the parties themselves, not Washington, are responsible for the pace of progress, and that the United States “cannot achieve [success] for them.”
Interestingly, at no point did he characterize the need for diplomatic breakthrough as urgent, though he did call on the parties to “show patience and flexibility.” He repeated this theme several times, including statements such as “the task begun here at Annapolis will be difficult” and “a lot of work remains to be done.” In short, these were not the words of a president who sees the prospect of a peace deal so tantalizingly close that he is prepared to offer the equivalent of a “Bush Peace Plan” in order to achieve it.
Over the next twelve months, President Bush’s calculus may change; he would, after all, not be the first president to catch the peace process bug. But taken together, the president’s words at Annapolis suggest that he would not consider the lack of an Israeli-Palestinian treaty in a year’s time a failure, if the parties were still working cooperatively toward that goal. From that perspective — and, in fact, by any objective measure — handing the baton of a functioning peace process to his successor would itself constitute success.
Two Phrases of Historical Note
In his own speech at the summit, Abbas made a special effort to reach out to Israelis with his commitment to a common peaceful future. At the same time, however, he also made two specific references to nakba, the Arabic word for “catastrophe,” which is the traditional Palestinian term for the creation of Israel in 1948. Although the current peace talks are, by mutual assent, defined to resolve “the occupation that began in 1967” — that is, a negotiation over the disposition of territories taken in that war — no word is likely to raise more suspicion about true Palestinian intentions than nakba, which refers to Israel’s very existence, not its size.
Bush, too, used historically important language at one point, seeming to anticipate the need for a profound statement to affect the Israeli national psyche by surpassing his own previous commitments to the Jewish nature of Israel. Specifically, he promised that the United States would maintain its commitment not only “to the security of Israel as a Jewish state,” but also to Israel as “a homeland for the Jewish people.” That description — which gives presidential recognition to the connection that Jews worldwide have with the state of Israel — goes beyond Bush’s own words in his April 14, 2004, letter to then-prime minister Ariel Sharon and harkens back to the language of the landmark Balfour Declaration promulgated by Britain ninety years ago this month.

Robert Satloff is executive director of The Washington Institute.


BICOM Analysis: The Middle East after Annapolis


I will call together an international meeting this fall of representatives from nations that support a two-state solution, reject violence, recognise Israel’s right to exist, and commit to all previous agreements between the parties. The key participants in this meeting will be the Israelis, the Palestinians, and their neighbours in the region. Secretary Rice will chair the meeting. She and her counterparts will review the progress that has been made toward building Palestinian institutions. They will look for innovative and effective ways to support further reform. And they will provide diplomatic support for the parties in their bilateral discussions and negotiations, so that we can move forward on a successful path to a Palestinian state. (President Bush, White House, 16 July 2007)

President Bush’s statement, made shortly after the Hamas coup in Gaza and the split of the Fatah-Hamas unity government, announcing a conference vague in purpose, arrived on the scene looking to many like a platitude rather than a policy. But lying behind it is a very real need to halt the spread of Iranian backed extremism in the region. Today the Palestinian territories are one of the key active battlegrounds, alongside Lebanon and Iraq, for determining the future of the Middle East. Whilst frequently depicted as a battle between extreme fundamentalism and secular moderation, in reality this dichotomy is hopelessly simplistic. It would perhaps be more honest to describe the struggle as one between those the West feels comfortable doing business with, and those they would rather not. In either case, US, EU and Israeli policy is more or less united behind the principle that Mahmoud Abbas and his ailing Fatah movement are currently the relative good guys that need to be supported, and Hamas, with their Iranian backers, is the enemy that must be isolated.

The Palestinian territories, Lebanon and Iraq may be the states in play right now, but many more states in the region are potentially at stake. The US’s two most important Arab allies in the region, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, both have regimes constantly looking over their shoulder at popular Islamist oppositions within their borders. And the differences between Shi’ite and Sunni notwithstanding, the anti-western movement in the region has a sponsor growing in confidence. The ambition of Iran: rich in oil, territory, population and – if things do not change – soon to be rich in nuclear technology, is a threat to every regime in the neighbourhood.[1] It is this threat which has overcome the Bush administration’s Clintonophobia – the fear of following Clinton’s example of apparently fruitless proactive Middle East peace making. Countless words have been written about the content, or lack thereof, of the conference itself, but its success is more likely to be judged by what follows it. Much will depend on the steps the two key protagonists take on the ground, and the way the rest of the Arab world chooses to play its cards.

Annapolis and After

Bush’s statement of belief that this is a crucial moment for determining the future of the Middle East gave the green light to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. What Rice subsequently encountered are the challenging realities on the ground in both Israel and the Palestinian territories. Whilst the Palestinians tried unsuccessfully to turn the conference into a short cut to a final status agreement, it has become clear that neither side is in a position to negotiate or deliver the necessary concessions at this stage. And though it has become fashionable in the last few weeks to treat Annapolis with scepticism and even derision, there are still a number of indications that the worst fears of the most enthusiastic doubters should be taken with a pinch of salt.

The latest came on Friday, when the Arab League decided in favour of attending the conference at ministerial level. Even Syria will send a minister on the proviso that it gets to bring the Syrian track to the agenda at some point during the proceedings.[2] This latest development follows a series of choreographed steps that have taken place during the past week in the Israeli-Palestinian arena designed to lighten the mood. These include Israel’s announcement that it will release a further 441 Palestinian prisoners, and Tony Blair’s announcement, alongside PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, of a wave of ‘quick impact’ job creation projects in the Palestinian territories.[3]

The conference itself, if successful, will mark a milestone in three ways. First, it will make public the degree of consensus that currently exists between the two sides. We know from the positive noises that have come from the bilateral meetings between Abbas and Olmert that consensus exists to some degree. Now will be the time to publish a document which represents the lower common denominators. Even if the level of agreement is only on vague outlines, and not on details, this should not be regarded as a failure, but as a benchmark from which to move forward. This is not the Camp David 2000, or Stormont 1998 approach; a make or break conference where the two sides are supposed to stay there until the job is finished. The only game that has any chance of success for both sides in this context is the long game. The process will be a marathon, not a sprint, and in the new lexicon of the latest incarnation of the peace process, Annapolis is the launch for the negotiating process.[4]

In what marks an Israeli concession to Palestinian demands, talks will advance on “all substantive issues” before stage one of the Roadmap is complete.[5] Still in a weak electoral position, and yet to face down the Winograd report and a number of personal corruption scandals, Olmert does not have too much to lose. With a diplomatic success his best hope of a political lifeline, he is likely to continue with the process and see if he can use it to bolter his poor public standing. This may create a problem with timing. The Palestinians have always feared that open-ended negotiations allow Israel to stall whilst continuing to change the reality on the ground in their favour. Bush and Rice would apparently like to see the sides arrive at an agreement by the end of the Bush term, in January 2009, raising the prospect of a hair-raising dash to the finish a year from now, worryingly reminiscent of the failed peace efforts at the end of the Clinton term.[6] This may be a year too soon for Olmert, whose term is not due to end until March 2010.  Though an early election currently seems unlikely given the current poor showing of Kadima, the Israeli Prime Minister will no doubt watch the polls very carefully for any sign of a surge on the back of successful negotiations, which might present his best chance to fight off Netanyahu at the polls.

The second way in which the conference will mark a milestone is that it will create a renewed expectation, and possibly a new monitoring process, regarding each side’s implementation of their commitments under stage one of the Roadmap. For the Palestinians this means effective action to disrupt and dismantle terror groups. For Israel this means freezing settlement construction, dismantling of outposts, and returning to positions held before the outbreak of the second Intifada in September 2000. Both sides are supposed to stop incitement.[7] This is where it starts to get real for both sides. Forcibly dragging people from hilltop caravans is divisive in Israel, and will strain Olmert’s coalition. Two of the partners, Shas and Yisrael Beitenu, fear that Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu will steal votes from them on the right if they go along with it. And Labour Party leader and Defence Minister Ehud Barak, in theory the ‘left-wing’ partner, will be wary of taking steps which interfere with his project to win credibility on the right. On the Palestinian side, it means Fatah clamping down on Hamas and other rejectionist groups in the West Bank, something it has thus far shown little capability of doing.

If both sides are being realistic, they will judge one another more by the spirit than the letter of the Roadmap. When the Roadmap was first agreed, without a recognised mechanism for monitoring, each side was able to use the other’s failure to deliver on its commitments as an excuse not to engage with the agreement. This time, Palestinians will want to see real cooperation from Israel in steps to ease life in the West Bank and help make the investment and development projects recently announced by Tony Blair a success, including the relaxation of the movement and access regime. Israel will want to see the Palestinians genuinely taking steps to establish functioning governing institutions, and inhibiting not only violence, but its glorification and popularisation in the territories under their control. Practical solutions which ease Palestinian life without compromising security ought to be possible if the goodwill is there.[8]

The third way in which the Annapolis conference will mark a milestone is that it will secure the endorsement of the Arab world in the process. This is important politically, in that it represents the ‘pro-West’ and ‘anti-Iranian’ consensus in the region becoming stakeholders in the Quartet backed Roadmap vision of a negotiated path to a two-state solution. In essence it staples the Saudi backed ‘Arab Peace Initiative’ to the Roadmap. But what exactly is the Arab role in the future of the process?

What the Arab states can do

Arab states have a pivotal role to play, as well. They should show strong support for President Abbas’s government and reject the violent extremism of Hamas. They should use their resources to provide much-needed assistance to the Palestinian people. Nations like Jordan and Egypt, which are natural gateways for Palestinian exports, should open up trade to create opportunities on both sides of the border. Arab nations should also take an active part in promoting peace negotiations…by ending the fiction that Israel does not exist, stopping the incitement of hatred in their official media, and sending cabinet-level visitors to Israel. With all these steps, today’s Arab leaders can show themselves to be the equals of peacemakers like Anwar Sadat and King Hussein of Jordan. (President Bush, White House, 16 July 2007)

The last-minute decision of the Arab League to endorse the attendance of Arab foreign ministers at Annapolis is an important success for the US. It turns the conference from a narrow attempt to win progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track to a party with one conspicuous absentee. Iranian leaders will watch the proceedings on TV whilst almost every other state in the region, including even the internationally condemned Pakistan, and “state sponsor of terror” Syria, walks the red carpet. Not only that, but in so doing they will potentially move forward from the position of the Saudi Peace Initiative, and empower the Palestinian people to resolve the question of the Palestinian territories captured in 1967. So if the Palestinians choose to give up on the right of return, or compromise on settlement blocs, other Arab states will not be in a position maintain those demands.

But the success of bringing the Arab states to the table will be of little consequence if they do not follow up their endorsement of the process with continued positive contributions. First, the Arabs can help the process by backing, and not condemning, the Palestinian leadership when or if it makes concessions. They can also help by spending some of their oil dividends on Palestinian development. A measure of the commitment of the Saudis in particular will be the size of the cheque they are willing to write in the name of Palestinian development. They were reportedly willing to put one billion Dollars behind the failed Hamas-Fatah unity government they brokered at the beginning of the year. They were publicly burned by that experience and it will be interesting to see if they are willing to stump up similar sums to back President Abbas and his Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in the current context. On the Israeli side, Arab states can reward Israel for its positive steps in the process with diplomatic gestures. Some in the US would like to see Arab states recognising Israel before the end of the process.[9] This seems an unlikely hope. Recognition is the final card the Arab states have to play and they are unlikely to give it up until the very end. But there are steps short of full recognition, such as lower level diplomatic meetings, relaxing the economic boycott and allowing the establishment of representative offices in their countries which could be offered.

Of course, the Palestinian territories are not the final piece of the puzzle when it comes to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. Syria is the other state with a post-‘67 territorial claim. Israeli leaders suggested the possibility of reviving the Syrian negotiating track this week, and the Syrians have now been successfully wooed to the conference.[10] The Syrian track involves its own deep complexities, not least of which was highlighted by a poll published in an Israeli newspaper on Friday, showing that whilst 70% of Israelis support negotiations with Syria, exactly the same number oppose giving up the Golan, which is the clear condition for peace between the two states.[11]

Leaving Iraq and Lebanon aside, in the regional battle of influence between Iran and the US, Syria is being treated as the potential swing state. Many regard Syria’s real interests as being to secure its influence in Lebanon, and to have the international community call off the dogs over the investigation of the murder of Rafik Hariri, rather than to win back the Golan Heights. The US has so far been firmly opposed to any compromise on these issues, but at some point it may have to make a decision with its allies over which is more important, isolating Syria, or drawing it away from Iran. Their attendance may mark the beginning of a shift on this front, but it will not be the central issue. The question of whether Assad’s regime can or will switch camps will be faced again another day.


One’s assessment for the outcome of the Annapolis conference is based on one’s expectations. If anyone expects this to be a shortcut to peace they will be disappointed. But taking a step back, those who want peace should see no other option than to force those who share a more or less common vision for the future to get together and commit themselves to that end goal. If the world waits for perfect circumstances – strong Israeli and Palestinian leaders, favourable public opinion, a US administration respected in the region, an Arab consensus to reform the region – it will wait forever.  Almost exactly thirty years ago, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat made his fateful journey to Israel, triggering the first peace deal between Israel and an Arab state. If he had waited for favourable polling he would never have got on the plane.

The anniversary of this event is the strongest reminder that we should be willing to expect the unexpected. A peace process can create its own momentum. The sight of the Israeli flag standing alongside the flags of the Arab nations, and the Israeli Prime Minister at a table with leaders of the Arab world is important in itself. One cannot underestimate the importance that constructive Arab engagement sends to the Israeli and Palestinian street. 

It is something unimaginable for many years. So while this might on the surface look like a nice chat and a photo-op, as a British politician of another era once said, it is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war. Talk is not cheap. Even if it is of little content at this stage, it is still infinitely more valuable than no talk at all.

Equally important, though, will be action on the ground. Through positive action, as well as words, the ground must be cleared on which a peaceful model of two states for two people will be built. However difficult it may look now for each side to change the reality on the ground, the longer they wait, the greater the potential of extremists to supplant their own vision in its place.

[1] For a description of Iran’s growing influence and threat from an Arab perspective, see ‘Iran’s expanding influence,’ Ibrahim Nawar, Al Ahram, 22-28 November 2007

[2] ‘Israel welcomes Syrian participation in Annapolis conference,’ Aluf Benn and Barak Ravid, Haaretz, 25 November 2007

[3] ‘Blair unveils huge jobs plan to bolster Middle East peace talks,’ Julian Borger, The Guardian, 19 November 2007

[4] Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni; Join Press Conference with Foreign Secretary David Miliband, 18 November 2007

[5] Ehud Olmert in press conference with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, 20 November 2007

[6] ‘Peres: Peace deal impossible to reach before Bush term ends,’ Haaretz, 22 November 2007

[7] A performance-based roadmap to a permanent two-state solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict

[8] ‘Confidence Building after Annapolis,’ David Makovsky, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy

[9] International Crisis Group Policy Briefing; 20 November 2007

[10] ‘Olmert: Annapolis a momentous opportunity,’ Roni Sofer, Ynetnews, 25 November 2007

[11] Yediot Ahronot, 23 November, 2007