Annapolis 07

ANNAPOLIS

Annapolis Peace Talks, 2007

THE GUARDIAN INTERACTIVE: Ian Black looks at the issues, the key players and the chances of success

[Extract below from “In Annapolis, Conflict by other means” by Robert Belcher and Mouin Rabbani, MERIP, 26 November 2007 – Analysts for the International Crisis Group]

The Annapolis meeting was announced by a Bush administration that was unsure how to address the mess created by its six years of neglect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, yet eager to salvage an achievement from its catastrophic Middle East policy and cognizant of the need to rally Arab support for a possible confrontation with Iran. In July, Bush announced an “international meeting” whose agenda was something of a mĂ©lange: Anchored in boilerplate about Palestinian institutional reform, it also offered “diplomatic support” for Abbas’ and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s biweekly discussions. At the time, these talks were focused on delimiting a “political horizon” — that is, the rough contours of what a Palestinian state would look like — but as the conversations took on a genial tone, Ramallah’s aspirations for what Annapolis could accomplish rose. The commentariat began to bruit about prescriptions for what it would take to accord Abbas a major diplomatic victory and thus transform the Palestinian political order. Would Israelis and Palestinians agree to a framework agreement for peace, thereby succeeding where their predecessors had failed, or only produce a more general declaration of principles, as had already been done in 1993? The negotiating teams, appointed in early October, did not meet even the most modest of expectations in this regard.

As the gaps between the two sides remained unbridgeable, domestic fronts opened up as well. Olmert’s coalition partners threatened to abandon the government if Annapolis should yield the kind of result from which Abbas could make political hay, while Hamas withdrew the mandate to negotiate it had extended to Abbas in a 2006 agreement and confirmed in an accord brokered by the Saudis in 2007. What, then, could the two sides agree on?

First, they agreed that whatever they decide in Annapolis will be implemented only in accordance with the “road map,” the 2003 document sponsored by the so-called Quartet of the US, the UN, Russia and the European Union. The road map required the relative normalization of daily life before any discussions of the “final status” issues — borders, settlements, water, Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees — could get underway. For Palestinians, this meant ensuring Israeli security, including the disbanding of militias, as well as transforming the Palestinian Authority into an efficient and effective institution. For Israelis, it meant measures aimed at making Palestinian life under occupation a bit more bearable. But with armed groups having seized the initiative from the Palestinian leadership, and Israel attaching conditions that vitiated its acquiescence of any import, the document was dead on arrival.

More than four years later — and two years after the road map’s proclaimed expiration date — it has a new lease on life. For Olmert and his colleagues, the road map’s resurrection offers a way to divorce final status negotiations from the act of talking about them to the Palestinians, thus enabling Israeli officials to cast their glance at the horizon without sacrificing crucial support at home. It also allows for continued insistence on Palestinian security reform, though Palestinian officials, all the way up to Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, seem to need no prodding in this direction.

As for Abbas, the road map permits him to insist that Israel undertake a range of measures that Palestinians have been demanding for a long time: a settlement freeze, the reopening of Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem, removal of restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement and dismantling of outposts (that is, settlements that are not just illegal under international law but also unauthorized by the Israeli government) built since 2001. And since Abbas is confident that the Palestinians have already made good progress toward meeting their commitments, the road map is, in his estimation, cost-free.

Second, Israelis and Palestinians agreed to continue talking. On the one hand, this development ought not to be dismissed: Not since January 2001 have final status issues been on the table, and after six years of stonewalling Palestinian demands to take them up anew, the Israeli government finally relented. The atmosphere surrounding the Annapolis meeting has accordingly lightened of late: Press accounts, which had been poking fun at the administration’s inability even to name a date for the talks, began taking the meeting more seriously. The State Department, which semi-comically insisted early on that the meeting was “not a conference,” so as to bottom out the low expectations, took to dropping the C-word regularly in briefings. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice even says she hopes the two sides can strike a final deal “in this president’s term, and it’s no secret that means about a year.”

But, on the other hand, what seems to be a victory of sorts should be recognized for the failure that it is: Annapolis was not supposed to be a launching pad for final status talks, as an adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team put it. Rather, the Maryland meeting was supposed to mark the halfway point to a final status agreement. If the two teams could not agree, in the course of nearly two months, upon a short statement of the most basic parameters for a resolution — the 1967 border with minor and reciprocal territorial modifications, a divided Jerusalem as the capital of two states, a negotiated solution to the refugee question — why would another eight months (as the Palestinian team wanted) or 14 (as Olmert suggested) help? After 15 years of on-again, off-again negotiations, why would time be the salient variable? And even should Israeli and Palestinian negotiators find common ground before Bush’s term ends, what hope does either government have of selling it at home?”