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Middle East Peace Conference: Plenty of nothing or a bit of something?

09/23/2007

An international conference can be successful if the different parties have something to offer each other that can satisfy the needs of the other sides. That is how bargains are made. On the face of it, the Middle East conference scheduled for this fall seems to be headed for disaster, because the parties either have nothing to offer each other, or are determined not to offer it.

Mahmoud Abbas needs a state and international support against Hamas. The Arab states are not willing to offer him the latter, while Israel isn't going to offer him a state as long as he can't control the Hamas and can't make reasonable terms for that state.

Israel needs security against terrorism and recognition and peace treaties. The Arab states will not offer recognition and peace treaties until the Palestinians have a state, and maybe not even then. See previous paragraph.

Abbas cannot offer security against terrorism because he doesn't control Hamas, and hardly controls the West Bank. Israel also needs support against Iranian nuclear ambitions. The Arab states aren't going to offer that, because they, evidently, have decided that the cause of fighting Iranian hegemony and nuclear ambitions is lost. The US isn't going to offer it because the US is too weak and divided to take any decisive action regarding Iran, because it is not certain if anything really and because they are waiting for Arab support.

The US needs Arab support in the Iraq war, but it is not clear what sort of support the Arab states could or would provide.

In view of the probability that the conference will not result in a Palestinian state, the Hamas-controlled Fatah Al-Aqsa Brigades in Gaza are calling on Abbas not to attend, since Israel continues to exert "tyranny" against the Palestinians. They are joined by Gideon Levy in Haaretz, who has the illusion that Abbas wants to perpetuate the rule of the Hamas, and should be indignant about Israeli plans to blockade Gaza.

Likewise, Israeli hawks could advise the Israel government not to attend the conference either, since "the Palestinians" continue to rain rockets on Sderot, and since Abbas has not given in on any Israeli demands, and can't deliver anything in return anyhow.

But we know that Israeli hawks are always going to advise against concessions, and we know that the Hamas don't want this conference to happen, and we know that Gideon Levi is Gideon Levi, still living in the reality of the last decade. These noises are all bargaining by the different sides and jockeying to get a better deal.

What the conference can accomplish firstly is the fact that it happens. A conference of states that support peace and are opposed to Iranian/Syrian threats is an accomplishment for the US and for Israel, if it is not a total farce. It is a blow to the "refusal front" and the forces of darkness. Israel will get an affirmation that at least some Arab states support its right to exist, in principle.

Abbas and the Palestinians can, at minimum, get two things that are very precious. The first, is that Abbas will get open support and recognition for his government and the PLO as legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people, as opposed to the Hamas government in Gaza. That is probably the most important gift he could be given at a political level. The second, is that even the most watered down and generalized declaration of principles will have to include, on the part of Israel, a recognition in principle of the right of the Palestinians to a state. Many of those who will say it is meaningless would be the first to decry the Balfour declaration. That document wash after all, only a declaration of principles, not even a real document of state, which the British government proceeded to tear up. Nonetheless, the ultimate outcome of the Balfour declaration was a Jewish state.

While the different parties can't give what they don't have, and can't be expected to give away something for nothing, they can all recognize a commonality of interests in building peace and isolating Iran and Syria and in stabilizing Iraq and guaranteeing the independence of Lebanon, and they can all give what they do have. The Arab states can come up with a plan of economic assistance for the West Bank, just as previously they supported the Hamas government, and they can begin to back Abbas unequivocally in policy statements as well. The US will need to come up with an aid package as well. Israel can make life easier for Palestinians in the West bank, even as they contemplate making life more difficult for the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip. Abbas could begin to use the new prosperity to put in place an effective government that gives Palestinians security from chaos, and at the same time begins to suppress terror. He would then be in a much better position to wrest control of Gaza from the Hamas renegades. On the basis of these confidence building measures, a real peace process could be renewed.

In practice, it probably won't happen like that. There is every indication that United States Secretary of State Rice is trying to paper over differences rather than laying the groundwork for any constructive progress at the conference, and that the other parties are all doing their best to be obstructive. The "refusal front," the US neocons and the Israeli right will attack the achievements of the summit conference no matter what they are. The conference may well be viewed as a signal failure for US diplomacy as well as for peace, if that is how the pundits and politicos want to spin it. But it doesn't have to end that way.

Hey, I can dream, can't I?

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000626.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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