One PA – with Hamas

As much as the Annapolis conference sought to be “in favor” of the peace process, it measured its success in its ability to be “against” – against Iran, against Hezbollah, against Syria and against Hamas. This is an ostensibly simple and convincing method of measurement. The more Arab leaders at the conference’s gala dinner, the greater the victory of the “against” forces: Iran became more isolated, Hamas was pushed into a corner and Hezbollah remained alone. This is one way to assess the conference, but it will turn out to be meaningless when the time comes soon to pay the Annapolis IOUs.

Take, for example, the question of isolating Hamas. This chapter should particularly interest Israel because Hamas is the key to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ ability to demonstrate his “partnerability.” According to the “Bush test,” which requires “destroying the infrastructures of terror,” there is no gray area: Hamas must be dismantled. Abbas not only needs to disarm the Hamas army, crush the Qassam cells and jail the wanted men. He must also take apart Hamas’ organizational framework, its civic infrastructure, schools and health clinics. He will be judged by these steps, which Israel will require as initial proof of implementing the road map.

But what about the many people who support Hamas – not because they are more religious, but because the movement was perceived a year ago as a worthy alternative to the Palestine Liberation Organization’s corruption? Even today, despite a drop in Hamas’ popularity, especially after its takeover of Gaza in June and the street battles against ordinary citizens, Hamas is regarded as more than a terror organization. It is seen as a political movement that does not recognize Israel and rejects negotiations with it – principles that have considerable support among the Palestinian people. [complete article]

Olmert: ‘If talks fail, Israel will be finished’

The state of Israel would be “finished” if prospects of a two-state solution collapsed, its Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has warned. Two opinion polls have shown widespread scepticism among the Israeli public about this week’s Annapolis summit.

Mr Olmert told the liberal daily Haaretz: “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished.”

Mr Olmert’s warning – raising however obliquely a highly sensitive comparison with apartheid South Africa – came as a poll in the newspaper showed that only 17 per cent thought the Annapolis conference a “success” – compared with 42 per cent who thought it was a “failure”. [complete article]

Will Annapolis change anything?

Sift through all the hype about President Bush’s Annapolis peace conference, and it’s hard to find grounds for optimism that much has changed in the dynamics shaping the Mideast s core conflict. Sure, Israelis and Palestinians agreed to talk about the “final status” issues of creating a Palestinian state, with the U.S. urging them on. But the governments representing the two sides in Annapolis may actually be further apart on the substance of some of those issues than were their predecessors who failed at Camp David.

At Annapolis, the parties agreed to talk, again, about the issues of Jerusalem, the borders of a Palestinian state and the fate of refugees and water rights, setting the goal of reaching agreement by the end of 2008. The key statement in the declaration adopted at Annapolis, however, is in its concluding paragraph: “Implementation of the future peace treaty will be subject to the implementation of the road map, as judged by the United States.” In other words, the discussions launched by Annapolis will simply flesh out a political “horizon” as an incentive to implement President Bush’s 2003 Roadmap. And therein lies the problem. [complete article]

Moscow may host Middle East follow-up

Russia and the United States are tentatively planning a second Middle East peace conference, in Moscow in early 2008, with major parties hoping to begin a comprehensive peace effort that would include direct talks between Israel and Syria, according to U.S., Russian, Arab and European officials.

Syria’s delegate to this week’s talks in Annapolis said yesterday that Damascus wants a Moscow gathering in order to begin negotiations between Syria and Israel over the Golan Heights, a border region seized by Israel during the 1967 war. “It is our hope that we can revive the Syrian track in Moscow,” Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad said in an interview before departing Washington.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert indicated that he hopes at some point to resume talks with Syria but cautioned that the time is not yet ripe. He said Syria must change its behavior, notably its support for Lebanon’s Shiite militia Hezbollah. [complete article]

A peace conference for friends only

What if you gave a peace conference and no enemies came, just friends? That was the essence of the Bush administration’s one-day international pageant at Annapolis.

Apparently the Bush administration has concluded that it is impossible to deal with Iran and its protégés, Hezbollah and Hamas, but it is possible to unite Israel and the Arab states against them, increasing their isolation and, ultimately, forcing them to accept Israel’s and America’s dominance in the Persian Gulf and Middle East.

The trouble is that the Annapolis formula ignores the profound changes in the balance of power in the Gulf and the alterations in the allegiance of the Lebanese and Palestinians – changes in favor of Iran. Forcing Iran to play the role of the wicked fairy at the party may coincide with the Bush administration’s strange view of that country, but it is no way to make peace. [complete article]

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