NEWS, ANALYSIS & EDITOR’S COMMENT: The Annapolis peace ambiance

U.S. push on Palestinians has Iran motive

The United States hopes one byproduct of its Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking will be a moderate Arab alliance to counter Iran’s influence in the region, but analysts are skeptical the strategy will work.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has argued that a strong Palestinian state could act as a bulwark against a rise in extremism, mainly from Iran, which Washington accuses of backing groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — Reuters reports that:

Rice was asked this week if ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had more to do with Iran than anything else.

“It’s a strange argument,” she told reporters but she reiterated her view that growing extremism in the Middle East was a key factor driving the main players in the region to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Even if Rice says this is a strange argument, it should also be a familiar argument since it was essentially the argument being made by her then-counselor, Philip Zelikow in a keynote address to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy just over a year ago. Zelikow envisioned a coalition of the “United States, key European allies, the state of Israel and the Arab moderates” that would be needed to confront Iran. He said that what would “bind that coalition and help keep them together is a sense that the Arab-Israeli issues are being addressed.” The Annapolis meeting is taking place to foster that “sense”; to create an ambiance in which it feels like there is movement in the direction of a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict

Likudnik hawks work to undermine Annapolis

Despite near-universal skepticism about the prospects for launching a serious, new Middle East peace process at next week’s Israeli-Palestinian summit in Annapolis, a familiar clutch of neoconservative hawks close to the Likud Party leader, former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, isn’t taking any chances.

Hard-liners associated with the American Enterprise Institute and Freedom’s Watch, a bountifully funded campaign led by prominent backers of the Republican Jewish Coalition, among other like-minded groups, are mounting a concerted attack against next week’s meeting which they fear could result in pressure on Israel to make territorial concessions.

The attack, which comes amid steadily growing neoconservative fears that the administration of President George W. Bush is becoming increasingly “realist” in its last year in office, is being directed primarily against Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, rather than the president himself. [complete article]

Syria reportedly to skip summit, as Haniyeh calls meet ‘stillborn’

Hamas’ Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh said Thursday that next week’s U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace conference is stillborn and will achieve nothing for the Palestinians, as the London-based Arabic-language newspaper Al-Hayat reported that Syria has already decided not to attend the Annapolis, Maryland summit.

“We realize that this conference was stillborn and is not going to achieve for the Palestinian people any of its goals or any of the political and legal rights due to them,” Haniyeh said outside the Palestinian parliament building in Gaza City.

Haniyeh said Abbas did not have the mandate to make compromises in talks with Israel, especially over the demand of Palestinian refugees to return with their families to homes in Israel they lost during the 1948 War of Independence. [complete article]

Saudis to attend Middle East peace conference

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister is to attend next week’s Middle East peace conference, he announced today, in a significant boost to the US-sponsored talks.

“I’m not hiding any secret about the Saudi position. We were reluctant until today,” Saud al-Faisal told a press conference at the ongoing Arab League meeting in Cairo.

“If not for the Arab consensus we felt today, we would not have decided to go,” he said. “But the kingdom would never stand against an Arab consensus, as long as the Arab position has agreed on attending, the kingdom will walk along with its brothers in one line.” [complete article]

Israel to start gradually reducing Gaza power supply December 2

Israel to begin gradually reducing the power supply to the Gaza Strip on December 2, in response to the ongoing Qassam rocket fire at Israeli communities along the Strip, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz told the High Court of Justice on Thursday.

According to the State Prosecution, the defense establishment has finalized preparations meant to ensure that the power reduction does not cause humanitarian harm Gaza.

The Palestinians will be given a one-week advance notice of the intention to begin reducing the power supply. [complete article]

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