Tuesday, 27 November 2007

What can the Annapolis peace talks accomplish?

There are hopes that Annapolis will pave the way for a 2008 peace treaty between Israelis and Palestinians.

The US, Israeli and Palestinian leaders have voiced hope that a conference in Maryland could produce a starting point for serious peace negotiations.

Bush said that peace was 'worth it to try' and that he 'work[s] the phones' in the peace process.

This peace conference is the first of its kind since 2000. The US is actively taking a role in the talks, after sitting on the sidelines on many previous occasions.

Israel has argued that initiatives that have isolated the Palestinian territories are needed for its security. The general pattern of Israel-Palestinian skirmishes is militant fires rocket into Israel or attacks army, Israel responds with raids which result with civilian deaths, more rocket fire and retaliations by Palestinians, and collective punishment upon already-angry Palestinians by Israel. This is how it has been for years.

There are several firsts for this conference. Syria will be in attendance — a first for the dictatorial, terror-supporting-yet-marginalized (and under-utilized) nation. The country will, of course, be on the side of the Palestinians and is still pushing for the return of its Golan Heights from Israel. As a reminder, Syria is on President Bush's "axis of evil". This will also be the first big job for British PM turned peace negotiator Tony Blair. Lastly, Saudis and Israelis will be sitting at the same table — but Israeli diplomats beware: the Saudi representative has stated he will not shake hands with you.

A total of 40 countries are attending the summit in Annapolis, Maryland. Hamas, which rules Gaza, will not be coming. In fact, it wouldn't see the point in such a meeting as it neither recognizes Israel nor diplomacy as a good way to achieve results.

This is an odd, if possibly inappropriate, time for peace talks. Tensions are high over Iraq; the Bush administration faces hurdle after hurdle with shear incompetence and poor diplomacy. Perhaps Bush is making a last-ditch effort at setting the stage for the creation of a free and independent Palestinian state, an aspiration of his. Secretary of State Condi Rice may be vying for a good diplomatic spot in history, odd since she helped block former Sec. of State Colin Powell's attempts at a similar Mideast peace conference.

CFR's Richard Haass argues that one will have to wait for the time to be right before a real drive for peace can be effectively made. But talking in the meantime can't hurt. It isn't good to be impervious to reality just for the sake of optimism.

There is an overall mood of skepticism as talks get underway. The best and most realistic hope is that some progress can be made in bringing Israel and Palestine out of decades of conflict using diplomacy. Hopefully both sides will make valuable concessions, but considering Palestinian Authority President Abbas only has control of the West Bank, his options are even more limited. Seven years ago US President Clinton made a large effort at Mideast peace — it failed miserably. Even though I don't care at all for this White House or its historical legacy, I hope this summit's results aren't the same.


Wil Robinson said...

I was watching Al Jazeera english today and was rather surprised by their coverage of the event. They are optimistic, it seems.

One big difference in the coverage was that while CNN shows "what's going on 'on the ground' in Palestine/Gaza" we just get video of angry militants, Al Jazeera English took a different approach.

The journalist for Al Jazeera sat down at a cafe and talked with actual Gazans. Not militant, gun-toting, Hamas types...but regular, sensible, logical Gazans...and got their opinion.

To answer your question which is also the title of your post as to what the talks can accomplish...

NOT talking won't accomplish a damn thing.

I'm not optimistic, but it's better than nothing.

clearthought said...

The BBC did the same as Al Jazeera. The woes of many Palestinians are immense, and many are cynical of the talks, but very few think things could get much worse because of the talks.

I agree that lack of discussion — even if the results aren't glamorous — is not the right path to follow, and that the US is right in promoting diplomacy. If only actors like Hamas could be so rational.