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Rami Khouri on Annapolis

A Great Stage that Should Not be Missed
*by Rami G. Khouri
Released: 21 Nov 2007

NEW YORK -- There is something unconvincing, even insincere, about the
tentative steps and gestures being made by the parties trying to arrange
the meeting in Annapolis, Maryland next week to re-launch
Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. It is hard to generate any real
anticipation from a process in which the principal Israeli and
Palestinian parties are politically weak, the American hosts are
imprecise and hesitant, the desired supporting Arab state actors are
playing hard to get, and the agenda is as clear as mushroom soup.

Those are all reasons why the Arabs who are invited to go to Annapolis
should accept the invitation without reservations, go with enthusiasm
and confidence, and use the gathering as a stage to demonstrate the Arab
will for a fair and negotiated peace. If Annapolis is a confused and
murky process, the Arab world should respond to it with clarity and

Nowhere in the Annapolis process is there any decisiveness or
conviction, any real sign of a burning desire the make concessions,
compromises, or genuine peace. The whole process smacks of American
self-serving expediency, rather than an honest mediator's sincerity.
Washington seems to be trying to compensate for the heavy price it has
paid in the world for three policies in recent years: ignoring the
Arab-Israel issue for the first 6 years of the Bush administrations,
attacking Iraq and setting off a series of negative consequences in the
region, and throwing its weight around by applying or threatening
sanctions against governments it does not like.

The United States now finds itself in the unenviable position of being
criticized all around the world, widely seen as a destructive power, and
yet not feared. It has lost much of its capacity both to deter and to
cajole other countries. The sudden 180-degree turn on getting involved
in Arab-Israeli peace-making is unconvincing precisely because it is so
sudden, severe and out of character -- almost maniacal in its intensity.
Nothing new can be seen in the preparations for the Annapolis meeting.
The principals are still dancing around the same old dynamics that have
already failed several times in recent years -- releasing some prisoners
in Israeli jails, pledging to freeze Israeli settlement expansion,
promoting Palestinian security forces and economic opportunity, and
other such stalwarts and regulars of the post-Oslo attempt to make peace.

Israel has thrown in the new demand that Palestinians formally
acknowledge Israel as “a Jewish state,” which complicates matters even
further and makes agreement less likely. About 20 percent of Israeli
citizens are Palestinian Muslim and Christian Arabs, and their status in
“a Jewish state” would be unclear, as would the rights of Palestinian
refugees to a redress of grievance under existing UN resolutions that
say they have the right to return and/or to compensation.

Both sides are still trying to formulate statements on issues they have
grappled with before, but are likely to come up with wording so vague
that it is meaningless in practical terms. Annapolis is looking more and
more like a jamboree of words, symbols, statements and photo
opportunities that simultaneously camouflage but emphasize the
fundamental discord in Arab-Israeli relations.

The Israelis will not acknowledge Palestinian rights to a viable state
and a fair resolution of refugee rights, and the Palestinians in turn
will not recognize Israel as “a Jewish state.”

Most of what is going on is not new, and we are all dancing because the
Americans suddenly decided to strike up the band. Therefore we in the
Arab world have nothing to lose, and much to gain, by turning Annapolis
around and making it an opportunity. The Palestinians and Arabs,
including Saudis and Syrians, should announce that they are delighted to
go to Annapolis if invited because they see it as a moral obligation and
constructive political endeavor to explore any possible means of moving
towards a negotiated resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

We should go to Annapolis and use it as a powerful stage from which to
speak to the whole world, including the Israeli people who will be
watching closely. We should use it principally as a venue where we could
articulate clearly our desire to negotiate a permanent peace, based on
the 2002 Arab peace plan, and expose once again the vacuous and
insincere nature of the Israeli and American positions. Or, if the
Israelis-Americans are in fact sincere and committed to genuine
peace-making through negotiations based on UN resolutions, then they can
make that clear for their part, and we can move to our shared goal of a
fair, permanent, legitimate peace accord.

Annapolis is not a serious peace-making endeavor, but it is a
spectacular stage that the Arabs can use to challenge Israel, the United
States, and the world to make peace sincerely, rather than through the
stealth, evasion, and imprecision that defines the current mist-filled
road to the gathering.

/Rami G. Khouri is an internationally syndicated columnist, the director
of the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut,
editor-at-large of the Beirut-based/ Daily Star/, and co-laureate of the
2006 Pax Christi International Peace Award./

Copyright ©2007 Rami G. Khouri / Agence Global
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