OPINION: Bush’s special talent for failure

At last, consensus in the Middle East: all agree these talks are bound to fail

It takes a special kind of genius to unite the warring parties of the Israel-Palestine conflict, but George Bush may just have pulled it off. His proposal for what the US administration calls a “meeting”, rather than a peace conference, in Annapolis, Maryland, before the end of the year has elicited a unanimity unheard of in the Middle East. From the hardmen of Hamas to the hawks of Likud, there is a rare consensus: Annapolis is doomed to failure.

“On the Palestinian street, no one has a good word to say for this exercise,” says the analyst and longtime negotiator Hussein Agha: “At best people are sceptical, at worst they are calling for a boycott.” Two recent opinion polls on either side of the divide show emphatic majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians convinced that success is impossible. That sentiment is shared at the highest level. Yesterday Gordon Brown, at a press conference with the visiting Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, lowered expectations so far that they were somewhere around his ankles. “We’re not complacent about the outcome,” he said by way of understatement. “We don’t have false hopes.”

Even the US administration cannot muster much faith in its own initiative. In a long and detailed speech on Middle East policy at the weekend, Vice-President Dick Cheney made only one passing reference to Annapolis, in just a single paragraph on the Israel-Palestine conflict. One suspects the Cheney-led hawks within the administration would not be too downhearted if Annapolis fails, thereby reducing the standing of its chief patron, Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, regarded as dangerously soft by the Cheney camp. Ominously, the date for the event is already slipping. Once pencilled in for November 26, it’s now scheduled only for some time “before the end of the year”. [complete article]

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