Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Annapolis Summit

The Annapolis summit has begun with a whimper and is expected by observers to end with a sigh.

Protests by right-wing religious groups in both the Israeli and Palestinian camps have captured some TV time, but not much more. In Gaza Hamas militants have staged a protest that was broken up by Palestinian police. Also in Gaza two terrorists were killed placing a bomb near a fence, beyond which were Israeli troops. All are seen by pundits as attempts to disrupt the peace talks.

Hamas has pledged violence in response to any agreement reached at the summit, which they claim is against Palestinian interests. According to the Jerusalem Post, most Palestinians aren’t happy with the talks either, since those Palestinians participating in Annapolis are the same faces the public has seen during the last fifteen years of failed peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

The report in Tuesday’s paper also pointed out that Palestinian President Mohammed Abbas was part of the staff attending the Camp David summit when Ehud Barak was Israel’s Prime Minister, Bill Clinton the US President and Yassir Arafat the Palestinian Authority’s Chairman.

According to the Jerusalem Post Abbas was one of those telling Arafat not to accept the Israeli terms, which later turned out to be a plum. The report further states that the present group of Palestinian negotiators cannot accept less than they turned down when Arafat was at Camp David.

The same men, back again, is how the Palestinians reportedly look at their negotiators. Men who the Palestinian public distrusts, believing them to be corrupt and self-interested. How then, analysts ask,, can these men be empowered to reach a deal with the Israelis, and then, even harder, to achieve any consensus from a population who by and large distrust them?

On the Israeli side the picture is just as glum. Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is unpopular at home. His coalition partners, like Ehud Barak of Labor, are against the summit. Farther to the right Both Eli Ishai of Shas, the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, and Yvette Liberman of Israel Beitanu, the ultra-nationalist party, have threatened to leave the government if any agreements are signed at Annapolis.

Beyond that Olmert is still under a cloud of suspicion, with three criminal investigations hanging over his head, and the the investigation into the War in Lebanon still to be completed. Olmert isn’t expected to escape unscathed from these four events; One is expected to snag him, and perhaps bring down the government.

The driving forces behind the summit are really George W. Bush and his Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice. Both reportedly feel the glare of history upon them as Bush’s presidency comes to an end. Analysts believe George W would like to have his picture taken with Abbas and Olmert, all clasping hands as did Jimmy Carter, Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin, at the successful Camp David meeting that resulted in a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. Or a photo op like Yitzchak Rabin and Shimon Peres had with Bill Clinton and Yassir Arafat. The result of those successful meetings rated mention in a page in history, or at least a footnote.

Bush has 9/11 to mark his presidency, followed by driving the Taliban out of Afghanistan and invading Iraq. All violent acts by one side or the other. A peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians would round out his diplomatic initiatives and perhaps put him in a positive historical light.

Then there’s the Saudi’s and the Syrians to consider. Both countries have sent representatives to the Annapolis summit, mainly due to pressure exerted by the US government. Neither sent top-level diplomats, but rather second or third stringe who are there to look and listen.

Is this summit a good thing? Of course it is. Any time adversaries get a chance to meet and talk peacefully is a good time. Beats fighting. But is there a chance something positive will come out of Annapolis? Sure there is. There’s also a chance the Bears will win the NFL Super bowl, or that it will snow in Miami. Just not much of a chance.

Will there be a peace agreement leading to a two-state solution within the next year? Doubtful. Both representatives, Olmert and Abbas, are too weak at home to get anything approved.

But as the oncologist told the woman who was asking her chances of surviving breast cancer after having neglected the growing tumor for more than two years, “There are miracles and wonders in the world,” he said. “Anything is possible.”

Oh, the patient never experienced any miracles or wonders. One doubts George W. Bush’s wishes for a successful summit resulting in a two-state solution will fare any better. When it’s all over, and when George W. is back at his ranch, just another private citizen minding his oil wells, he’ll remember the sigh of disappointment that things didn’t turn out as he’d hoped in the Middle East.

On a brighter note, Iran has announced it has developed a long-range missile that can strike at targets over 2,000 kilometers away. Military analysts say this puts Europe within range of Iranian weapons. Israeli Knesset Member Ephraim Sneh said this should be a wake up call for Europe.

Let’s hope the call isn’t followed by a loud bang and a huge explosion that spreads faster than the fires through the dry Malibu brush.