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Who will be the turkey at the Annapolis Middle East Thanksgiving?


The Annapolis meeting is apparently going to happen. Despite widespread expectations of failure and despite disappointing stands by the US, Israelis and Palestinians (See Annapolis Middle East Meeting: Lay down the law and previous articles) , some analysts nonetheless hold out some glimmers of hope for success, according to their views of the conference. What does each side want and how do they view the conference?

The Israelis and the Palestinians, oddly enough, see the conference the same way in a sense. For them it is all about the Road Map. The Palestinians assert that they want to "implement" the roadmap by forcing Israel to agree to a deadline for creation of a Palestinian state. The Israelis assert that they too want to implement the roadmap, but that this means that the Palestinians have to end violence. That was the point of all the cliched phrases in Tzipi Livni's address at the Saban center and elsewhere (See Bullhsh*t Bingo). Each side only wants to implement the part of the Road Map that obligates the other side.

The Israelis note with some justice that with the time period of Phase I of the road map supposedly past, Palestinians have done virtually nothing to implement security and control of terror. The Palestinian Authority doesn't even control Gaza any more. From Israel's point of view, it took a great step towards its road map obligations by leaving Gaza, and this had produced nothing but misery. Benjamin Ben Eliezer, a proponent of disengagement, has now admitted that it was a mistake. He concludes that no territories can be handed over unless and until there is an orderly government that can ensure peace and quiet. Mahmoud Abbas's government doesn't seem to qualify on that count. From the point of view of rightist Israelis and Zionists, they can see only that Israel will be offering concessions, most notably in Jerusalem, and the Palestinians will be making demands. For them, the Annapolis Summit is like a big Thanksgiving dinner, in which Israel will play the role of the turkey. For turkeys, Thanksgiving is not much fun.

From the Palestinian point of view, they note with some justice that the time for Phase I of the Roadmap has passed, but Israel has not eliminated illegal outposts or stopped expansion of settlements. In fact, five more illegal outposts were established over the Sukkoth holiday, only one of which was removed. Ehud Olmert, like Abbas, seems to be losing control.

For the Americans, Annapolis means something else entirely it seems. They understand that there will indeed not be instant peace between Israelis and Palestinians. They are more interested in forming an alliance of Middle East countries that will support the US in Iraq and help to contain Iran. At least, that is the view of David Brooks. It makes sense, given the cold war containment background of Condoleezza Rice, and the fact that she originally tried to seize on the renewal of the Arab Peace Initiative by the Arab Summit to have a meeting like the Annapolis Summit. The need to contain Iran with a regional alliance takes on new urgency in view of Iran's frank ambitions to form an Iran-Turkey-Syria-Russia axis, an alarming prospect for the United States and most Middle East governments. Such an alliance would revolutionize the rules of the Middle East "Great Game," in which Russia and Turkey have been been traditional antagonists for a century and a half, bound to clash over geopolitical realities. An Iranian government FarsNews article claims that this new alliance is "inevitable." In that view, Iran will play the role of the turkey at the Annapolis Thanksgiving celebration.

As for the Arabs, each bloc or country necessarily has different views. Syria is interested in getting the Golan heights and also in getting a green light to maintain its hold over Lebanon. But it is as unlikely to give up its alliance with Iran and Russia as Turkey is unlikely to give up its alliance with NATO and the US. At least some Arab analysts outside Syria view the conference in much the same way as Brooks claims that Condoleezza Rice does. In Asharq al Awsat (London) Mamoun Fandy writes that a Palestinian Israeli settlement is of little value to Israel if the Iranian threat is not resolved, and it it is of little value to anyone else. He opts for an Arab-Israel understanding:

... the strategic prize for the US, Israel, and even some of Arab states, is to stabilize Iraq and contain Iran and prevent the latter from becoming a nuclear state. In this regard, Israel and the US need the 22 Arab nations that agreed to the Arab Peace Initiative as allies in any upcoming eventuality against Tehran. This can only happen if we move away from the narrow focus of a Palestinian-Israeli truce to an Arab-Israeli settlement.
It is also important for the Palestinians to know that they have a choice between a state and the right of return; they cannot get both even from the most dovish Israelis. Also, it is important that the Israelis understand that having a legal settlement with the Palestinians does not mean an end to the Qassam rockets. However, it could contribute significantly after a settlement when Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States condemn Hamas for launching rockets at Israel. Arabs would do well to give up on the idea of a ‘just and comprehensive peace’. No settlement in the history of international conflicts was just.

It is very important for Secretary Rice, who is an excellent student of international politics, to understand that winning 22 Arab allies against Iran and against all the radical forces in the region is the real strategic prize for both Israel and the US.

Most of the above sounds suspiciously like something I would write, but honestly, I didn't.

In al Moustaqbal, Lebanese columnist Khairallah Khairallah opines:

"Why is it in the interest of the Arabs to support the summit called by George Bush Jr., even though its results are uncertain?

"The answer to this question is, once again, that the Arabs need stability, and that a settlement between the Palestinians and Israel would promote stability, which would help to stop the exploitation of the Palestinians as fuel for the fire of regional conflicts – [exploitation] which has brought them nothing but calamities..."The summit must be supported because there is no other alternative, apart from leaving the situation as it is. Is there anything worse than what is happening today in Gaza, which has been transformed into a kind of Islamic emirate, ruled by Hamas in the Taliban style?...

It sounds good to Western ears. But remember that this is the Middle East. What sounds logical is usually not what happens. Fatah, Israel's peace partner, may be going out of business according to Arab commentators. Hamas is probably going to step up pressure on Israel with its Qassam rockets, inviting a massive invasion that would wreck the peace process. Either that, or Hamas may step up the pressure on the failing Fatah, resulting in a unity deal that would mean that Israeli concessions are made to a Hamas controlled government that isn't going to make peace. Or Turkey will be goaded into wrecking its alliance with the US by attacking the Kurdish PKK bases in Iraq

In too many of these scenarios, the US may well find itself playing the role of the turkey at the Annapolis peace celebration.

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/00000645.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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