The basic issues have been clear for a long time even if no progress has been made in finding a solution: the external frontiers of a Palestinian state, a shared Jerusalem, a practical resolution for the Palestinian refugees and their descendents, a release of the Israeli grip on the West Bank and the political and economic integration of the Gaza Strip. It is not clear that the administration of President Bush is in a position to do much on these issues even if it wanted to. However, the US administration is there because no one else has taken its place, not the UN, not the European Union, not Russia.
Thus today, a deadline for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is set by a totally irrelevant factor, the end in 2008 of the second term of George W. Bush. While his departure is irrelevant to the issues, a deadline can be of use so that the negotiation process is not eternal as was the case after the Oslo 1993 accords. Waiting grows tiresome when there is little meaningful change in daily life and even more tiresome when living conditions grow worse as they do in Gaza.
Each actor came to the Annapolis stage for domestic reasons not really related to the creation of a Palestinian state. The President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, was there to prove that he is President and can speak for all the Palestinians. The Palestinians are divided with Hamas, which was not invited to be part of the Palestinian delegation, in control of Gaza. The Gaza strip governed by the former Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, is outside the negotiations, and Hamas is unlikely to accept publicly the direction of the steps proposed. Mahmoud Abbas needs international recognition to strengthen his domestic position.
Likewise, Ehud Olmert, the Prime Minister of Israel, would like some international recognition for his leadership and peace-making ability. He is unpopular at home for a number of reasons – the way he organized the war against Lebanon in the summer of 2006 being a chief complaint against him. His government is an unstable coalition, and he has many enemies to his Right who want no awards made to the Palestinians – and certainly not a Palestinian state. The freeing of a few political prisoners is as far as the hard Right in Israel will go, and the emphasis is on the word few.
President George W. Bush needs the American people to think about something other than Iraq. Some progress in the Israel-Palestine issue would be useful, especially if it looks as if progress is being made without being very clear on what actual steps are taken – steps on which Americans could be divided. There are those who think that the Americans had a more definite aim in the meeting – not mentioned publicly. The aim – and the reason why some representatives from Saudi Arabia were there – was to build a coalition of anti-Iran forces. Khaled Meshall, Hamas’s Damascus-based political leader, has called Annapolis a camouflage for the American’s "major strategic game – war on Iran." While war with Iran is not an aim, some Arab states led by Saudi Arabia have the danger of a dominant Iran as a chief preoccupation. They see growing Iranian influence in Shiite-dominated Iraq, in Lebanon through Hezbollah, and in Gaza through Hamas. While, in fact, each situation is a reflection of domestic causes rather than Iranian action, some Arab states see Iran riding the crest of a political wave.
There have been many fine words spoken before on Middle East peace and reconciliation. There have even been specific promises made during the past 60 years. Yet the area is still in a state of mutual fear, antagonism, and nearly daily violence. The start of an "Annapolis process" will be meaningful only if there are renewed efforts by the civil society both within Israel and Palestine and by those of us outside to help find avenues for advancement. There is probably no broad road, and thus no clear "road map". There may, however, be small paths, and we need to help find these.
Rene Wadlow is the Representative to the United Nations, Geneva, of the Association of World Citizens, and Editor of http://www.transnational-perspectives.org/ Photo from indymedia.org