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 Council for the National Interest Foundation
 November 20, 2007
 For Immediate Release

A six-person delegation from the Council for the National Interest
Foundation (CNIF) returned from a five-nation tour of the Middle East
warning that the projected peace conference at Annapolis must succeed
or it could result in renewed violence in occupied Palestine.
Presenting their views at the National Press Club on November 16,
members of the delegation, headed Ambassador Robert V. Keeley who is
chairman of CNIF, relayed the concern expressed by many leaders in
Israel and the surrounding states about the steady downgrading of the
conference in Annapolis, from "peace conference," to "conference," and
now to "meeting."

"It will probably become a photo op, with Secretary of State Rice
between a Palestinian and an Israeli," Ambassador Keeley, said in his
opening remarks.

The Annapolis conference, which was announced in July by President
Bush, has consumed the time and energies of Secretary Condoleezza Rice
who has made repeated trips to the region to assess its progress by
various parties in Israel and Palestine. It is an attempt by the
present administration to resuscitate the moribund 2002 "Roadmap" that
was never fully embraced by the Israelis or Palestinians.

Ambassador Keeley made the point that people of the Middle East are
eager to meet with NGOs and with any group that might have some
influence on American policy in the region.  "People there are
desperate to talk with Americans - to tell their story," he said.

Beginning in Israel, the delegation met with two members of the
Knesset, with NGOs, and peace activists, toured the wall and Jewish
settlements in the area surrounding Jerusalem, and took a trip to
Hebron to talk to Jewish settlers and peace activists.  In talks with
Israelis, fears were relayed that Minister of Defense Ehud Barak was
working hard to prevent a peace agreement, and that Prime Minister
Olmert lacked the necessary backing in the Knesset for many of his
pre-conference positions.

The delegation met with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam
Fayyad, Riad al-Maliki, the foreign minister, and Abdel Razzak
al-Yahya, the interior minister. Dan Lieberman, one of the delegation
members, talked about how the Israelis fail to control the settlers
while they keep a very close watch on the Palestinians.  He drew
attention to what he saw - the checkpoints, the walls encircling major
towns, the punitive actions, all of which make life difficult if not
unbearable for ordinary Palestinian citizens. Richard Bliss, another
delegation member, was startled by the 30-ft wall, which "has turned
the West Bank into a prison," and the Palestinian's camps, which he
called "urban ghettoes."  It was his first visit to the Middle East.

In Jordan, the delegation visited the Palestinian refugee camp at
Jabal Amman, where, as Marlina Garrett, the CNI staffer who
accompanied the group, pointed out, four generations of Palestinians
have lived. In a meeting with the Jordanian foreign minister,
Abdelelah al-Khatib expressed the view that for Annapolis to succeed,
it required at least six months of meetings, and six months of
implementation.  The feeling the delegation gathered from meeting with
the minister and other officials was that there was too little
preparation on the one hand, and too little will on the part of the
Israelis for a peace settlement on the other.

In Syria, the delegation met with the deputy vice presidents Farouk
Sharaa and Najah al-Attar, and spent an hour and a half with Khaled
Meshaal, the head of the Hamas political department who lives in exile
in Damascus.  He stated that Hamas would grant Israel a "ten-year
hudna (ceasefire), if there is a peace agreement." This position, Gene
Bird, president of CNIF, explained, was exactly the same that had been
told an earlier delegation from CNI in January 2006, when it met with
the then foreign minister Mahmoud al-Zahar.

Milton Viorst, the fifth member of the delegation, spoke on the
situation in Lebanon, where the group met with a large number of high
ranking political figures, including President Emile Lahoud and Prime
Minister Fouad Siniora.  The country is now confronting a new crisis
deadline, November 24, when by law the current president must leave
office.  If the parliament is unable to come up with a consensus
candidate for the office, it is possible that Hezbollah will set up an
independent government of its own.   Many Lebanese are convinced that
the US is intervening in the selection process of the new president -
who, by custom must be a Maronite Christian - to ensure a candidate
who will be favorable to American interests. Viorst refused to predict
what might happen, except that the stability of the country remains
very much in question.

CNI Foundation has sponsored yearly and twice-yearly "political
pilgrimages" to the Middle East, allowing "citizen diplomats" to learn
about the state of US-Middle East relations by meeting political
leaders in Israel and neighboring countries.  Dr. Grace Austin of New
Jersey, the sixth member of the delegation, was unable to attend the
press conference.

For additional information about delegation members and future events
concerning this pilgrimage, please contact us at 202 863-2951 or at

Click here to make a tax-deductible donation:
 Council for the National Interest Foundation
 1250 4th Street SW, Suite WG-1 · Washington, DC 20024
 800.296.6958 · 202.863.2951 · Fax: 202.863.2952

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