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Science, People & Politics, issue 6, volume ii, Volume I, published 10.12.07. Final posting 23.30 gmt, 10.12.07
On Wednesday 12th December  the follow up to the Annapolis Peace Conference last month gets under way. Hillel Schenker,
co-editor of the Israeli-Palestinian Journal (http://www.pij.org/index.php), here gives his view of Annapolis and argues that
those interested in the peace process should give Annapolis a chance.
JERUSALEM, 10th DECEMBER, 2007.
SINCE THE COLLAPSE of the Camp David 2 talks that were hosted by American president Bill Clinton and the outbreak of the 2nd intifada, we have had no formal negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, only mutual bloodshed and a growing loss of confidence and hope. Thus the fact that seven years later an American president, even one who has justifiably earned the reputation of being a failed leader, has once again hosted an Israeli-Palestinian summit conference should not be dismissed out of hand.
"A new start," read the headline in the mass circulation daily Yediot Ahronot the day after the November Annapolis conference. Professor Elie Podeh, head of the Islamic and Middle Eastern studies department at the Hebrew University, suggested the headline should have read "new start?" with the added question mark being very important. According to public opinion polls, only 17% of the Israelis think the Annapolis conference was a success, while 42% consider it a failure.
So why do I think that the outcome of Annapolis was the best we could get under the current circumstances and how does it fit into the Israeli-Palestinian stand off of the past seven years?
On the day following the conference, the Palestine-Israel Journal hosted a roundtable discussion in East Jerusalem for publication in our next issue. Although the topic was the Arab Peace Initiative, the moderator, Ha'aretz senior analyst, Danny Rubinstein, naturally began by asking the panelists' assessment of the conference.
Jamal Zakout, a former deputy minister in the Palestinian Authority and a senior adviser to Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, said that for the Palestinians the main achievement of the conference was an "unblocking of the peace process", after seven barren years. Professor Galia Golan of the Hebrew University's IDC Lauder School of Diplomacy and Strategy and a Peace Now leader said that from her perspective the fact that the Israeli right is upset and protesting against Annapolis means that "something good must have happened there".
Although Palestine-Israel Journal co-editor Ziad Abu-Zayyad, a former minister for Jerusalem affairs in the Palestinian Authority, asserted that "nothing happened at Annapolis", he conditioned that statement with the comment that something positive could evolve if the Americans will seriously invest in an effort to promote the peace process during the final year of the Bush administration.
It will be difficult. For seven years since the collapse of Camp David 2 and the outbreak of the second intifada in the summer of 2000, and then prime minister Ehud Barak's declaration that "there is no Palestinian partner" and Ariel Sharon's election in 2001 there have been no negotiations. Only paralysis and mutual bloodshed, with the main movement occurring unilaterally with disengagement from Gaza.
But still I have cautious optimissm, based in a comparison between the outcome of Camp David 2 and the Annapolis conference.
Camp David 2 collapsed without a mutual Israeli-Palestinian declaration, without a clear American declaration of progress and without any follow-up mechanism. It set the stage for the right's victory in Israel and the second intifada.
Annapolis concluded with a joint declaration, an Israeli and Palestinian commitment to ongoing negotiations on "the core issues of the conflict", an ongoing American involvement in the process, and an American commitment to monitor progress on both sides. This monitoring is a key factor which was lacking in the Oslo process.
Another key difference between Camp David 2 and Annapolis was the presence of the Arab foreign ministers. The lack of a broad Arab backing for the negotiations in 2000 was one of the causes of their failure. The presence of Egyptian, Jordanian, Saudi and even Syrian representatives, the head of the Arab League and representatives of Muslim countries outside of the Arab world, creates important regional and Muslim support for a negotiating process. This is all a direct result of the Arab Peace Initiative, which originated in Saudi Arabia, was originally ratified in Beirut in 2002 (two years after Camp David 2), and was recently reaffirmed in Riyadh in 2007.
The Arab Peace Initiative offers Israel recognition and normalization in exchange for withdrawal to the 1967 borders, the establishment of a Palestinian state based in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and comprehensive peace with its neighbors - Syria and Lebanon.
Of course it would have helped if the American president, George W. Bush, had not invaded Iraq, and had not waited seven years to seriously engage in the quest for Israeli-Palestinian peace. But this does not negate the fact that Secretary of State Rice has defeated the neocons and is trying to convince Bush to devote the final year of his administration to a serious effort to promote a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Of course it would help if the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, had the charisma of Yasser Arafat, and if the Palestinians weren't divided between the PA (Palestinian National Authority) controlled West Bank and the Hamas-controlled Gaza. But if Abbas can demonstrate that a renewed process can help the Palestinians on the ground it will enable the pragmatic pro-peace forces among the Palestinians to increase their strength.
Of course it would help if the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, had not been responsible for the perceived Israeli failure in the Lebanon War of 2006 and was a more popular leader. Still, he apparently realizes that his hopes for a political future depend greatly on a possible dramatic breakthrough in the peace process. He also appears to understand the importance of making significant progress towards a resolution of the conflict. In a more perfect world the Israeli and Palestinian leaders would be capable of negotiating a political resolution of the conflict on their own. In a more perfect world the United Nations, the European Community or any other capable and qualified mediator, would be able to facilitate a resolution of the conflict.
So far seven different people have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for efforts to resolve the Israeli Arab and Israeli-Palestinian conflict, beginning with Ralph Bunche in 1950, and although we have made some progress, we still haven't reached Israeli-Palestinian and comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace.
Although the US may be a receding global super-power today the heads of the American government are still the one factor with sufficient clout in the real world to facilitate a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Whether the current administration has the will and ability to do so will become apparent in the coming year, perhaps even as early as this week.
As we mark the 60th anniversary of the UN general assembly partition resolution 181, and near the 60th anniversary of the state of Israel, the fulfillment of
the original conception of a Jewish and a Palestinian state in the land of Israel/Palestine remains the key to both the Israeli and the Palestinian future.
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Commissioned and edited by Helen Gavaghan.
Proof read by Fred Pearce.
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