From an email by http://www.linktv.org
1. How did the Annapolis conference come about?
On July 16, U.S. President George W. Bush called for the convening of an “international meeting” this fall to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Three days later the Middle East Quartet of the EU, UN, US, and Russia endorsed Bush’s call.
2. What were the events surrounding Bush’s call for a conference?
In June, the Bush Administration lifted its political and economic boycott of the Palestinian Authority. The boycott had been in place since the democratically-elected Hamas formed a government in March of 2006. It was lifted on June 18, four days after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah dissolved the Fatah-Hamas national unity government and removed Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh from his position as Prime Minister. Abbas appointed former Finance Minister Salam Fayyad as Prime Minister, who then selected a new cabinet. On June 17, Hamas took control of Gaza while Fatah remains in control of most of the West Bank, though both territories remain under Israeli military occupation.
3. When and where will the conference convene?
At the end of September it was revealed the gathering will take place at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. On November 20, the U.S. issued formal invitations to Israel and the Palestinian Authority to attend talks on November 27. Talks are also scheduled to take place in Washington, DC, on November 26 and 28. (View conference schedule. )
4. Who will attend?
In his announcement of the conference, Bush stated “the key participants…will be the Israelis, the Palestinians, and their neighbors in the region.” The United States has sent formal invitations to Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and nearly 50 other countries and institutions. (View full list of invitees. ) Members of the European Union, the United Nations, the Group of Eight and the Arab League Follow-up Committee have expressed a willingness to attend. Many, however, have stated they will wait to see the agenda before making a final decision on whether to attend. The formal invitation makes mention of the Saudi peace initiative and calls for a “comprehensive settlement” in an effort to entice high-level Saudi and Syrian attendance. The Arab League will hold a mini-summit in Cairo on Thursday, November 22, to formulate a policy for the Annapolis conference.
Although the Annapolis summit is being promoted as a breakthrough in the peace process, many locals are worried that it will merely generate new tensions.
Both Israelis and Palestinians that I spoke to believe that the Annapolis “peace process,” like its many predecessors in the Middle East, is destined to fail because it lacks the necessary international support and is based on vague promises.
Its agenda remains uncertain and there are differences in the expectations of the participants: The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, believes that the conference should deal with the border issue, the status of Jerusalem, refugees, and settlements, while the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert seems to be looking towards yet another confidence building conference.
MIR’s Co-Producer Jamal Dajani Reports from Jerusalem
WHAT many dreamed would be a gilded carriage carrying the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to a grand ball of peacemaking has turned back into a pumpkin before their eyes. A firm date of November 27th for the “international meeting” in Annapolis, Maryland, was set only a week before the event itself, and as this article went to press talks were continuing over the content and which Arab states would attend. Despite increasingly frantic shuttle diplomacy, Condoleezza Rice, George Bush’s secretary of state, could not close the gap between the Israeli and Palestinian positions, forcing her to accept little more than the “photo-op” meeting that she had promised Annapolis would not become.
One reason was simple: the gulf between Israel and the Palestinians is indeed wide. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, wanted Annapolis to pin down some of the “core issues” of the two-state peace deal agreed at the non-binding 2001 Taba talks; issues such as the overall quantity (if not the exact borders) of the land Israel would relinquish for a Palestinian state. He also wanted a firm, six-month deadline for completing peace talks. Ms Rice too wanted some sort of commitments. Israel, on the other hand, wanted them left vague. In private, its officials argued that Mr Abbas and Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, were so politically weak at home that if they made promises they could not keep, opponents would seize on the chance to undermine both them and the peace process.
In 1974 I had a meeting with Aaron Yariv, then Minister of Information in Israel. As expected we discussed the Arab Israeli conflict and how to promote a peace process. Two points were highlighted. First, negotiation is the only viable way because neither side would be able to annihilate the other. Second, each party to the conflict would be wise to put itself in the position of the other and imagine how they see the issues and how they would decide in the given circumstances. To illustrate this point, Yariv said that he had followed the development of Yasser Arafat’s political career since the 1950s and he has admired his dedication to the Palestinian cause. If he were in Arafat’s position, he would have acted the same way that Arafat had acted, except for Arafat’s failure to see the issues from Israel’s standpoint. In other words, Arafat was not realistic enough for his own cause.
These two highlighted points are relevant to the impending Annapolis Conference between Israel and the Palestinians, sponsored by the United States. However, many questions have been raised to express skepticism, hope, and hopelessness. For example, should a conference be convened without assurances of some success? Who should be invited to participate? Should basic issues be discussed or should the emphasis be on principles and general confidence building procedures? Should the conveners expect resolutions or consider this conference as the start of negotiations? Many other questions are raised, especially by the media, with comments and predictions that might influence the expectations and results. However, experienced negotiators would try to remain immune to influence by others, especially by those who are much less informed than they themselves are.
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