Friday, November 23, 2007

The Annapolis Unsummit

The Bush administration has predictably hailed as a success the acquiescence of Saudi Arabia to attend the Middle East Conference next week in Annapolis.

But there is little enthusiasm in the Saudi capital of Riyadh for attending, In fact, the Cairo pre-conference hosted by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to coordinate an Arab position was decidedly downbeat about the prospects for new momentum on resolving Israeli-Palestinian issues after seven years of what many see as a pronounced anti-Palestinian tilt by this White House.

Tel Aviv and Washington have for many years complained that there was no “partner for peace” on the Palestinian side. While that might be credibly disputed when the United States really put its shoulder to the wheel and pushed the two antagonists to the negotiating table, it clearly is the reality in 2007.

Today there are two Palestines: the West Bank under the “control” of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and “his” post-June 2007 Prime Minister Salam Fayyad; and the Gaza Strip, since mid-2007 dominated by Ismael Haniyeh and Hamas. Abbas has the backing of Jordan and Egypt -- the two countries in the Arab world that have signed peace treaties with and have normal diplomatic relations with Israel -- as well as the “Quartet”: the UN, the EU, Russia, and the United States. Hamas is backed by Iran, which has not been invited to the summit, and Syria, which has been invited and is expected to attend if allowed to bring up the continued Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights.

Clearly, until the two Palestines are once more united, anything Abbas and Sayyad concede to Israel will not be accepted by Hamas -- unless the Saudis and the Arab League representatives come down on Haniyeh or the people of Gaza are allowed a new election as part of an overall new ballot for Palestinians.

Most telling of all, the U.S. heads into the Annapolis summit without an agreed draft communiqué -- a sure sign that this summit is starting off on unsure footing and that the chances for any real success are less than half.

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