The continued push towards Annapolis defies logic. I had had reasonable expectation that the conference would, at very least, been postponed once Rice saw that the two sides were miles apart on all of the major issues.
The Israelis and Palestinians cannot even agree on a preliminary joint statement. How, pray tell, will they negotiate "peace"? In addition to which, were Abbas to agree to terms acceptable to Israel (i.e., to compromise, which he hasn’t done at all), he isn’t strong enough to implement anything. Not only is Hamas breathing down his neck, he has no power within his own Fatah party.
A discontented Palestinian leaked a draft of the proposed agreement to Haaretz because he was dissatisfied that the PA team wasn’t demanding enough, e.g., removing the security fence. The document reflects some of the major disagreements that exist:
A defined timetable for ending negotiations . Israel is opposed to this. The Palestinians want some time between eight months and the end of Bush’s term.
Differences on when a monitoring committee to oversee implementation of the Road Map would be established and who would have final say on when a requirement of the roadmap had been fulfilled. The US wishes to assume that responsibility; this is a horror as we know how much slack the Americans cut the Palestinians.
The issue of what the "terms of reference" are with regard to negotiations. "Terms of reference" means previous treaties or agreements on which negotiations will be based. This is a big one. For example, the PA wants to include UN resolution 194, which the Palestinians claim (without true legal justification — if you want more on this, please ask) gives the refugees the right to "return" to Israel.
The Palestinians have rejected some additions that Israel sought: The first, and most significant, refers to two states with "each people in their own territory: Israel as the homeland for the Jewish people and Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people."
This is related, once again, to the issue of refugees. If Palestine is where Palestinians belong, they don’t "return" to Israel.
Olmert had made a statement about how there will be no negotiations if the PA won’t recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland. And yet Olmert is proceeding. This is part of what’s sick.
Second, in the phrase in the document that the Palestinians will bring "an end to incitement, extremism and violence," Israel wanted to add "terrorism" and the PA refused. What does this tell us, pray tell?
Israel wanted to put in something about "securing the release of Gilad Shalit" and the PA refused here too.
There are other issues as well: The Palestinians want to include eastern Jerusalem in all statements about the West Bank; this is not the Israeli position. They also want all prisoners released once an agreement is signed.
Then Israel raises the question of how to deal with Gaza. This major sticking point is just one more reason why negotiations at this time are ludicrous. Who does Abbas represent? Is there to be peace between Israel and the Palestinians or Israel and only those Palestinians in Judea and Samaria?
So, why are Rice and Bush persisting? Bret Stephens, writing in the Wall Street Journal the other day, quotes Kissinger, who once observed, "when enough prestige has been invested in a policy it is easier to see it fail than abandon it."
Caroline Glick, in her Friday column, discusses other theories — all of which we’ve heard at one time or another. The reason most commonly advanced is that Rice is willing to sacrifice Israel in the hopes of mobilizing a coalition of moderate Sunni states who, pleased with what is being done for the Palestinians, will support the US on Iran. Another supposition is that Rice and Bush hope to garner public support for their efforts. Then there is the notion that Rice and Bush may be trying to secure their legacies as peace makers (Clinton was motivated by this) — so that even if there is failure they will be remembered as having made the strongest possible effort to bring peace.
Glick debunks all of these reasons. Says she:
"So then there is no good excuse for the Bush administration’s decision to embrace the Palestinians at Israel’s expense. It all comes down to Bush and Rice not thinking through the consequences of their moves.
"It is a singular tragedy that Israel’s elected leaders are too weak to make them understand that by harming Israel they are harming the United States and making fools of themselves."
I am vastly uneasy about a decision by the members of the Arab League on Friday to attend Annapolis. They had had serious reservations and it looked as if they would not attend.
Khaled Abu Toameh has written that these nations will attend, but reluctantly, and with great hesitation as to what will transpire. In fact, some of the Arab nations had been trying to convince the US that this was the wrong time for such a conference. Originally they had said that they would come only if there was a timetable for negotiations and Israel committed to full withdrawal prior to the conference. What worries me the most is what off-the-record promises Olmert may have given, or what effect the major Arab presence will have on Olmert’s willingness to concede even more in Annapolis.
Toameh quotes Abdel Bari Atwan , the "savvy editor" of the pan-Arab newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi : "All these demands have been dropped, one after the other, in the wake of American pressure on the Arabs…The Arabs are being dragged to this conference with their eyes wide open, because the word ‘no’ does not exist in their dealings with the US administration."
Well, I wonder about this. That the US has clout, for sure. But we’ve seen plenty of instances in which the Arab world has flouted express US wishes. Toameh refers to something else that is part of the Arab concern. There are deep divisions within the Arab world, and the Arabs were worried that Bush and Rice were seeking to exploit these to form that anti-Iran coalition. They’ve decided, therefore, to attend as a bloc, and to respond as a bloc. This seems, then, less a caving to US pressure and more an attempt to defend against that pressure. And it totally defeats any notion that Rice and Bush have about strengthening their position via this conference.
Actually, they’re playing with fire. Atwan, cited above, further wrote: "The failure of Annapolis will lead to an all-out explosion in the Arab world, especially if the purpose of the conference is to provide cover-up for US plans to deal a military strike to Iran or Syria or Hamas or Hezbollah."
Hamas has said it will increase "resistance operations" (terrorism) after the conference.