Despite the happy faces portrayed in official photo opportunities on Condoleezza Rice’s last visit, the Bush sponsored Annapolis summit is doomed to failure. The Annapolis conference, as described by Secretary of State Rice, is to set the conditions for the creation of a Palestinian State- which is wishful thinking. But its failure to advance the peace process at next month’s conference in Annapolis could trigger worse violence than the second intifada that followed the failed Camp David talks in 2000, Marc Otte, the European Union’s (EU) Special Representative to the Middle East Process, warned last week.

Here only a few stumbling blocks why Annapolis cannot succeed:

Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert may have a temporarily ‘stable’ coalition, but is facing ‘mission impossible’ on all fronts: he cannot deliver anything significant, as did his predecessor Ariel Sharon.

There are over 200,000 settlers in the West Bank- which when push comes to shove will receive public backing over a large scale evacuation or even resettlement. No army or police in Israel will be able to implement a forced repeat of the Gaza disengagement after the fiasco which followed by incessant Qassam bombardment on Israel

The issues of Jerusalem and the refugee problem are unacceptable to the majority of the Israeli public including reasonable parts in bipartisan right and left.

There is no trust in any deal, worth its meaning with the Palestinians, based on the Oslo failure, Camp David 2000 and seven years of bloody Intifada. A look at the Palestinian educational program suffices to convince Israelis that a workable deal is totally illusory, at least until fundamental changes happen.

There is an unbreakable impasse in the West Bank. All previous attempts to turn the large cities over to a Palestinian authority security force failed miserably. Only a permanent Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and internal security agency (Shabak – ISA) presence has sofar foiled numerous attempts to infiltrate suicide attacks inside Israel. Moreover, only IDF presence has prevented the West bank turning over to Hamas rule as in Gaza.

On the Palestinian side, President Mahmoud Abas ( aka ‘Abu Mazen’) has nothing to offer Israel in return to any concessions. He actually rules no more than a small fraction of Ramallah, from his walled Muqatah fortress. All other cities in the West bank, ranging from Jenin in the North, to Nablus, Tul Qarem, Qalqiliya, Bethlehem and Hebron are all controlled either by local warlords, acting entirely according to their local interest, or by Hamas. Abu Mazen has neither the power nor the means to enforce law and order in the prevailing chaos (remember the Gaza fiasco last June), nor the political prestige to exert any authority, even in his close neighborhood.

Moreover, as long as Hamas is ruling the Gaza Strip, with about half of the Palestinian population, Abu Mazen has no choice but to make peace with the fundamentalists and recreate a new unity government, with which of course Israel will refuse to deal.
But the main stumbling block remains over Jerusalem, the holy sites on Temple Mount, the refugee problem and mutually accepted borders: to mention only a few of the hot topics. Any concessions, which will endanger Jerusalem from the West, East, North or South, will be unacceptable to Israel. Period. Giving up the holy sites will not only create acute problems in Israel, but become unacceptable by Jordan and especially Saudi Arabia, which regards Palestinians as secular and unfit to rule the holy sites. Moreover any withdrawal of troops from the strategic Jordan Valley and giving it to Palestine will create a strategic void between Israel and Jordan, threatening the Hashemite rule.
Even President George W Bush, who in the first place gave birth to this idea, in desperate effort bolster his flagging Mid East strategy, seems losing confidence.

Already becoming somewhat skeptical over its questionable outcome, Mr Bush is reported at loggerheads with his close confidante, Secretary Condoleezza Rice over this highly controversial issue. A recent visiting Jewish delegation cooled his expectations further when voicing concern about Ms Rice’s Middle Eastern policies and the unrealistic expectations that she placed on the Annapolis conference agenda. Moreover is it still unclear which of the leading Arab nations will participate, or which level of personalities will attend, from nations that will accept the invitation. This itself is a crucial issue and based on the present situation, it seems highly doubtful that Saudi Arabia, which is the key to any serious negotiations, will be willing to send a prominent member, a move which Riyadh has never undertaken in any summits, to which Israel attended!

There are already rumors in Washington, that the Secretary of State places her personal ambitions to pull off dubious diplomatic feats ahead of America’s national security interests. Some sources in the Middle East ascribe her intense drive for a quite hopeless conference in Annapolis to the same motive.

A few elucidations are in place to explain the existing controversy over the Annapolis issue:

Based on past efforts, all of which failed miserably, merely intensifying the decade-long bloody conflict, it seems crystal clear that the United States is unable solve what is called the “Palestinian problem.” This is not to say the Administration cannot pressure Israel into dangerous concessions, which the weak Olmert administration may even try to implement- but even this would not change the basic issue: the partition of what is called “greater Israel” or “greater Palestine”.

The presently so-called Palestinians “moderates” are weak partners, if at all. As long as the most radical Muslim states, Ahmadinejad’s Iran being the key player here, arm, supply and finance the Islamic fundamentalists, no single Palestinian group will agree to accept any concessions made to Israel until all their demands are totally fulfilled. For those extremists, the war, which has lasted already 40 years can go on for centuries if necessary- the sacrifice of innocent lives, or human misery seem no problem towards achieving this ultimate aim.

What people seem to forget is that United Nation (UN) Security Council Resolution 242 (November 22, 1967) has been the pivotal point of reference in all Arab-Israeli diplomacy for over forty years. Every major Arab-Israeli agreement – from the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli Treaty of Peace through the 1993 Oslo Agreements – all refer to Resolution 242.

The specific wording of UN Resolution 242 remains relevant: “Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force”.

But quite surprisingly UN Resolution 242, which is indisputably accepted by all parties, makes no reference whatsoever to “Palestine” or to any “Palestinian” jurisdiction in any of the disputed territories. It merely requires Israeli withdrawal from “territory”. It is theoretically conceivable, therefore, that some Jewish populated settlements could remain in the now occupied territories, under whatever jurisdiction is established (presumably Palestinian) and subject to that law, just as many Arab villages exist peaceably within Israel proper and are subject to Israeli law.

Moreover, the terms of President Bush’s June 24, 2002 speech with American demands for changes in Palestinian behavior, as preconditions for American support of a Palestinian state, formed basics of the subsequent “Road Map”, which both sides accepted for future negotiations. Unfortunately, sofar none of the Palestinian obligations, which had been set as preconditions have been met; each failure resulted in new “agreements” which brought to renewed bloodshed on both sides.

In fact, Israeli concessions since Oslo 1993 have led to extreme violence. The 2000 Camp David Agreement triggered the Al Aqsa Intifada, which has cost thousands of Palestinian and Israeli lives and changed nothing. Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in August 2005 started the Qassam rocket offensive on Shderot which continues daily.

Israel’s dubious consent to allow the 2006 Palestinian elections ( under direct pressure from Washington within its catastrophic “democratization” process) brought Iranian sponsored Islamic fundamentalism Hamas to rule Gaza, creating a terrorist base right on both Israel’s and Egypt’s doorstep. Now Olmert is already declaring his principal consent to cede territory in the West Bank and Jerusalem- a move which, if implemented, can bring those very fundamentalists within rocket range to Israel’s major urban centers. Millions will then live under constant mortal threat. All this can happen if Annapolis is to convene sometime towards the end of this year.

A major document, which is unexplainably omitted (intentionally?) by all sides, especially the Israeli leadership, is President Bush’s dramatic letter exchange from April 2004, which, if set as precondition by the Israeli government, could place the forthcoming Annapolis summit within a totally different context. Bush’s letter, which was endorsed officially by a wide majority vote at the US Congress and Senate, clearly defines US policy towards any Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations. Perhaps the most significant part of Mr Bush’ letter is the following statement:

“As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338. In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities. (The full version of the letter is available here)

If all sides were persuaded to adhere to this paragraph and to the mentioned “Road map” contents to be implemented in full, perhaps the Annapolis summit could perhaps still have a slim chance to succeed?

The Road Map

President George W Bush’s June 24, 2002 vision (the Road Map)

The road map comprises three goal-driven phases with the ultimate goal of ending the conflict as early as 2005. However, as a performance-based plan, progress will require and depend upon the good faith efforts of the parties, and their compliance with each of the obligations quartet put the plan together, with amendments following consultations with Israelis and Palestinians:

Phase I (as early as May 2003): End to Palestinian violence; Palestinian political reform; Israeli withdrawal and freeze on settlement expansion; Palestinian elections.

Phase II (as early as June-Dec 2003): International Conference to support Palestinian economic recovery and launch a process, leading to establishment of an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders; revival of multilateral engagement on issues including regional water resources, environment, economic development, refugees, and arms control issues; Arab states restore pre-intifada links to Israel (trade offices, etc.).

Phase III (as early as 2004-2005): second international conference; permanent status agreement and end of conflict; agreement on final borders, clarification of the highly controversial question of the fate of Jerusalem, refugees and settlements; Arab state to agree to peace deals with Israel.

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