Tuesday, November 20, 2007

No Point in Annapolis Peace Conference

Check out Bret Stephens' commentary on the forthcoming Annapolis conference, an American-sponsored diplomatic initiative designed to jumpstart peace in the Middle East:

Henry Kissinger once observed that "when enough prestige has been invested in a policy it is easier to see it fail than abandon it." At the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., next week, the current secretary of state will illustrate her predecessor's point.

"Annapolis," as it is spoken of in diplomatic circles, was conceived earlier this year by the Bush administration as a landmark conference that would revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and lead to a final settlement by January 2009. It was to be modeled on the Madrid conference of 1991, which brought Israeli leaders face-to-face with their Arab counterparts and, as it seemed at the time, created a new paradigm in the affairs of the Middle East. Back then, the idea was that the Iron Wall between the Jewish state and its neighbors could be brought down just as the Berlin Wall had. Today, the operative theory is that Israel's neighbors, fearful of Iran's growing regional clout, have a newfound interest in putting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to rest.

Nice theory--if only the locals would get with the concept. The Egyptians are openly skeptical about the conference, which they say lacks "an endgame." The Saudis, supposedly among the beleaguered and newly pliable Sunni powers, can hardly be bothered with Annapolis; even now it's unclear whether their foreign minister will attend. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has told the Saudis he would rather resign than attend a conference that achieves nothing. He fears Palestinians would "turn to Hamas after they see that Annapolis did not give them anything," according to an unnamed Palestinian official quoted in the Jerusalem Post.

Then there are the Israelis, who have even better reasons than the Sunnis to fear Iran. Yossi Beilin, architect of the 1993 Oslo Accords and a political dove, predicts not only that Annapolis will fail, but that its failure will "weaken the Palestinian camp, strengthen Hamas and cause violence." His political opposite, Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu, calls Annapolis "dangerous" and warns that Israel risks giving away everything for nothing in return. Few Israelis take seriously the view that the creation of a Palestinian state offers a solution to their concerns about Iran. On the contrary, they fear that such a state would become yet another finger of the Islamic Revolution, just as Hezbollahstan is to their north in Lebanon, and Hamastan is to their south in Gaza.

Read the whole thing. Stephens notes that expectations of progress have been dialed back dramatically, and the conference - now called a "meeting" - might not be held next week as planned. It's no wonder, given some of the archaic negotiating positions to which the Palestians still cling:

As for the agenda, there isn't one. Substantive discussions have been ruled out. There was some hope that Israelis and Palestinians would agree to a joint "declaration of principles," but they could not come up with a common text. Now there's talk of issuing separate declarations, or doing without declarations altogether.

Among the principles sharply in dispute is whether Israel is a Jewish state. "We will not agree to recognize Israel as a Jewish state," says Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, adding that "there is no country in the world where religious and national identities are intertwined." Counters Mr. Olmert: "We won't have an argument with anyone in the world over the fact that Israel is a state of the Jewish people. Whoever does not accept this cannot hold any negotiations with me."

See also Great Satan's Girlfriend for more analysis. Here's her synopsis of the conference participants:

The Internat'l Palestinian Sympathy Fatigue Awareness Week at Annapolis seems like another futile jaw flapping event. Legitimate reps from a legitimate, democratically elected government of a sovereign nation parley with chaotic, illegitimate bi polar terrorist loving, civil war infected fiefdoms whose 'diplomats' are determined more by loyalty to a leader than to their own people.
The Jerusalem Post has more.

But don't miss Caroline Glick's post on the deteriorating anti-nuclear diplomacy of the Middle East.