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Commentary by Gene Bird, President of CNI, who attended the Annapolis

Commentary by Gene Bird, President of CNI, who attended the Annapolis

Annapolis… and Beyond

As we boarded the media bus to get back to the Navy/Marine Corps stadium
in Annapolis last Tuesday night, one of the correspondents sighed and
said," Pretty soon, America is going to run out of small towns in which
to hold Middle East Peace Conferences."   Everyone laughed.

There have been six attempts just in the past quarter century by four
administrations to end the key conflict in the Middle East that
continues to fuel the religious extremists across the Muslim world.
  Harry Truman once said that recognizing Israel was the most difficult
decision of his presidency.  He never admitted that he made a mistake by
not specifying what he was recognizing.   It should have contained
Israel to borders agreed to at the United Nations, with participation by
representatives of Jewish world organizations only six months earlier.

That would have saved a lot of trouble stemming from the now huge
problem of determining final borders between Palestinian and Jewish
Israeli.  It will be the number one problem for the negotiations
calendared at Annapolis to begin December 12 in Paris.

No one believes Israel will give up and move out 340 thousand Jewish
colonists to make a final peace possible. The negotiations agreed to at
Annapolis are scheduled to continue until the end of the Bush
Administration.   But already, within days of the White House
announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was briefing the Jewish
press with a statement that said, yes, they would complete negotiation
of a two solution by 2009.   But that did not mean it would be
implemented by that time.

At a seminar on Capitol Hill sponsored by seven organizations, including
the Foundation for Middle East Peace, there was skepticism mixed with
hope that finally there would be a normalization of relations between
Israel and the Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese.

Splitting hairs in the current disastrous crisis for four million
Palestinians, will not lead to  the peace that George W. Bush and his
Secretary of State want so badly now.    Seven years too late they have
realized the centrality of the Israel-Palestine dispute to the whole
question of relations between the Muslim world and the West.

Three points can be made about Annapolis:

           First, it was the most global conference since Madrid,
bringing together 50 nations.  Is the United States no longer the only
peace broker?

           Second, the absence of any mention of Syria by President
Bush was both puzzling and possibly significant.  "Without Syria and the
return of the Golan Heights, the Arab League proposal for all Arab
states to recognize Israel cannot be implemented," said one Saudi
Minister some time ago.

           Third, the absence of Iraq who was uninvited but did not
come is also puzzling.  The disconnect between peace in Palestine and
our problem of ending the occupation in Iraq is a gaping hole that will
be filled by Iran and others.

There was at this conference, a different atmosphere, perhaps because it
was held on a major U.S military installation with tight security.   It
meant that there was no informal interplay between delegates and the
media as there was at previous conferences.    Only three delegates
ventured to give informal press briefings.  The Saudi Ambassador gave a
hastily convened 15-minute description of what was and was not
accomplished at the Conference in Annapolis.    His list of requirements
in the on-going negotiations considerably exceeded his short list of how
the conference succeeded in bringing so many nations from around the
world together.  The implication was that it probably failed to bring
the parties any closer to a real agreement on the main issues.

A second briefing on the floor of the media center I at Annapolis was
given by the Foreign Minister of Brazil, who also warned of issues that
confronted the parties, but expressed hope that they could be solved.
The reason for Brazil's presence at Annapolis, according to one
Brazilian journalist, was because his country wanted to do everything
possible for the Americans at this time when Brazil was seeking a
permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

A third briefing was given by the loquacious and quick-thinking
Palestinian Ambassador representing the PLO and PA in the United States.
Afif Safieh described the conference exactly like his compatriots had,
but with a great dash of hope for the onward negotiations.

In the past few months, the Palestinian people have seen their own GDP
go down by ten percent.   At the same time, they have witnessed an
increase in international aid of all kinds by 300 percent, representing
$400 million.   Palestinians are wondering where this money is going?
The answer is not far away.  Most of the new funding from America is
going to security services under the control of Mahmoud Abbas.  (George
W. made a slight mistake in his speech at Annapolis, calling the
President of the PLO 'Mohammed Abbas'!).

That means it is being spent mostly on trying to strengthen the Abbas
government and weaken by every means possible, the Hamas regime elected
in 2006.   Meanwhile, at Annapolis and in further public discussions in
Washington this week, the need to bring into the peace process some of
the Hamas leadership.   These leaders are being driven further and
further into withdrawing earlier statements that they could accept a
referendum on any peace agreement.   "They need to be at the table,"
said once Israeli delegate to    Camp David II.

The President and the Secretary of State made clear that they will not
budge on their demand Hamas recognize Israel, agree to earlier
negotiated agreements such as Oslo, and end violence.

This question of negotiating with Hamas and offer to take them off the
list of terror organizations is not even being considered.   Many
veteran peace watchers believe Hamas will remain the ultimate spoiler in
this latest peace process.   Can Old Europe and Russia and the UN
Secretary General change the mind-set among top-ranking officials in Tel
Aviv and Washington?

Annapolis was both global and re-asserted the Israeli insistence that
America be the ultimate broker when the negotiations break down.   Only
the Untied States among the four arties of the Quartet will monitor and
supposedly arbitrate differences over interpretations of the revived
Road Map.

One observer, Gaith Omari of the Palestine Negotiating team to earlier
talks said it well on Capitol Hill:  "I do not want a dishonest broker
nor an honest broker.  I want as a Palestinian an effective broker."
Let us hope for that.

Eugene Bird

Council for the National Interest Foundation Media Center

Washington, D.C.

Council for the National Interest
1250 4th Street SW, Suite WG-1 · Washington, DC 20024
800.296.6958 · 202.863.2951 · Fax: 202.863.2952

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