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The most thoughtful commentaries I have read on Annapolis have come

The most thoughtful commentaries I have read on Annapolis have come
from Daniel Levy. He is now at the New America Foundation, and was
previously a senior policy adviser in the Israeli Prime Minister's
office, a member of the Israeli delegation to the Taba negotiations in
2001, and lead Israeli drafter of the informal Geneva Initiative. This
piece was published in the Guardian Unlimited under the title "Keep the
Cynics at Bay" on 11/27/2007 before the Annapolis meeting. Other pieces
are available at www.ProspectsforPeace.com.


     Thoughts on Annapolis
     <http://www.prospectsforpeace.com/2007/11/thoughts_on_annapolis.html>

Here is a curtain raiser that I have in today’s Guardian online
<http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/daniel_levy/2007/11/keep_the_cynics_at_bay.html>.

Theories abound as to why an Annapolis conference and why now. Jerry
Seinfeld would be excused for thinking that this is all a personal
conspiracy against him - his visit to Israel was dominating the
headlines until Annapolis came along. In fact some in the Israeli media
have been drawing a rather unflattering analogy: the Annapolis
conference resembles a Seinfeld episode - it's about nothing. Yada yada
yada.

It's easy to be cynical, but Annapolis does matter. Israelis and
Palestinians will formally re-launch permanent status negotiations after
seven long, violent and destructive years. The Bush administration is
finally engaged and expending some capital on this issue. The Arab
world, including Saudi Arabia and Syria, will be in attendance. At the
very least it is the kind of gathering that cannot be convened every
fortnight, and to come away from it with no results would be a setback
to the cause of Middle East peace and something of an embarrassment to
those in attendance. The uninvited naysayers back home - Hamas, Iran,
you know the list - may look like meanie spoil-sports today, but if a
month from now negotiations are stalled and the situation on the ground
is just as dreadful (place your bets) then it is they who will be
wearing the Cheshire cat grins.

Annapolis could signify the rebirth of hope, but for this to be the case
the credibility gaps that have the sceptics buzzing will need to beBush
and Olmert addressed.

The first involves the revival of the "roadmap". The history of the
four-year-old document, according to which Israeli-Palestinian peace
should have been secured in 2005, is one of the more abject lessons in
how not to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track. This week,
however, the parties and the roadmap sponsors will rededicateBush and
Abbas themselves to "roadmap phase one", peace-process talk for issues
such as settlement freeze, outpost removal, easing of closure and
removal of checkpoints, reopening Palestinian institutions in East
Jerusalem, Palestinian Authority institutional and security reform and a
crackdown on terrorism.

Precious little from this list has been accomplished. The new ingredient
to be revealed at Annapolis will be a US-led monitoring mechanism to
oversee implementation of these issues. This may lead to partial
improvement on the ground, but it ignores the bigger structural reason
for the roadmap's failure. It is the same reason that incrementalism and
confidence building has failed as an approach for over 15 years: namely
that it is the core political issues that need to be addressed.
Delivering on roadmap phase one issues can provide oxygen, for a brief
period, to a serious permanent-status negotiation. They cannot replace it.

This takes us to the second credibility challenge Annapolis faces: what
kind of a process is being launched? Syrian attendance implies the
relaunching of comprehensive negotiations between Israel and all its
neighbours. Yet everyone, including Syrians themselves, still seems to
be in the undecided category regarding renewed Israeli-Syrian
negotiations. The Arab states will be in attendance, but unlike the
Madrid conference in 1991, there is no pre-agreed framework for
advancing a regional process the morning after Annapolis. At Madrid, a
regional architecture was created whereby five working groups met during
the subsequent months and years to discuss economic development,
environment, water, refugees and arms control and regional security. The
modality for maintaining an Arab states' role post-Annapolis has not
thus far been formulated.

The headline question, though, is whether Annapolis sets in motion
meaningful Israeli-Palestinian permanent-status negotiations. Is
Annapolis more about isolating Iran, defeating Hamas and striking a blow
for so-called moderation against extremism than it is about actually
delivering a viable and realistic two-state solution? While these goals
are sometimes described as being mutually supportive, the opposite
argument is actually more convincing. The inability of the Israelis,
Palestinians and Americans to produce any guiding parameters for these
negotiations in advance of Annapolis hardly inspires confidence for the
morning after.

So now let us look at each of these actors in turn.

The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, arrives at Annapolis battered
and bruised from both ongoing police investigations and last summer's
Lebanon debacle. Olmert's coalition allies on the right are threatening
to desert him if the word Jerusalem even passes his lips, and their
supposed counterweight, the Labour party leader, Ehud Barak, seems to
relish the prospect of Olmert's failure more than the realisation of
peace and security for his country. Before Annapolis, when Olmert peeked
over this political precipice, he chose to pull back and avoid a moment
of truth. But that calculation will need to change for negotiations to
become productive. Olmert has convinced many in the Israeli peace camp
and his international interlocutors of the sincerity of his pursuit of a
realistic peace agreement. This week marked the 30th anniversary of
then-Egyptian president Anwar Sadat's visit to Jerusalem, an event from
which Olmert might draw the following inspiration. When Menachim Begin
went to Camp David to negotiate with Sadat, the Israeli public supported
peace talks but did not support a full withdrawal from the Sinai or the
dismantling of all Israeli settlements there. The then-Israeli
opposition leader, Shimon Peres, cautioned Begin against making such
concessions. Today's polls on Israeli-Palestinian talks are similar.
Absent political courage from the Israeli side and encouragement from
the American sponsor (remember the role of the much maligned Jimmy
Carter at Camp David), there is no post-Annapolis worth waiting for.

Olmert's political problems must look like a cakewalk from the window of
the presidential compound in Ramallah. President Abbas arrives at
Annapolis as the head of a divided Palestinian polity and unable to even
set foot in Gaza, where 1.4 million Palestinians live under siege and
the threat of further punitive measures (their Israeli neighbours face
daily, if largely ineffective, rocket strikes). Abbas needs political
concessions from the folks in Jerusalem and Washington and, in
particular, a prospect for the end of occupation in order to revive the
fortunes of his Fatah movement and the path of negotiated non-violent
conflict resolution. The Palestinians will be showered with kind words
at Annapolis; three weeks later they will likely receive pledges of hard
cash at a donor's conference in Paris. Even if the Palestinians are
presented with a horizon of real independence and statehood, it will
likely be preconditioned on an unrealistic set of Palestinian security
measures.

To really be credible, the Annapolis process will have to overcome two
remaining taboos: that Palestinians can deliver ongoing security to
Israel under conditions of occupation and that a divided Palestine can
midwife a sustainable peace. The Hamas spoiler potential is not solely
or even principally about its ability to deploy violence. It is also
about the credibility and legitimacy of a process that excludes the
party that polled most votes in Palestinian elections.

Which brings us back to our American friends. The Bush administration
continues to view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the lens of a
global war on terrorism and as part of the momentous struggle of good
against evil. The great irony of the Annapolis conference is that the
framing narrative of its convener is the one thing that most undermines
its chances of success. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is
grievance-driven and its resolution is all about ending the occupation.
Israel needs and deserves security and peace but those things don't
coexist cozily with occupation. Violent al-Qaidists and their copycat
crews use the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to rally and mobilise
support, to vilify America and to undermine America's allies in the region.

That does not change the basic equation that for the vast number of
Palestinians, Hamas included, this is about addressing a real grievance
and not about destroying Israel or America. An America that accurately
connects the dots in the region will likely pursue a more inclusive and
comprehensive process and do so with the conviction that this is a vital
American interest. The alternative is to continue to pursue a policy
that looks like it was drawn up on the back of a napkin over lunch with
George Costanza and Cosmo Kramer. The Americans are back in the Middle
East peacemaking business, but now Annapolis needs to be about more than
nothing. And it shouldn't need 180 episodes to get to something.
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