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Who's afraid of Annapolis?

11/22/2007

From the opposition to the Annapolis conference we can learn two things. The first thing we can learn is that it has, despite all the pessimistic punditry, a good chance of succeeding. If the Hamas, the Iranians, the Yesha council and the ZOA did not think it could succeed, they would not be going to such great lengths to oppose it.

The second thing we can learn is that if all the blackest forces of reaction, repression, religious fanaticism, and genocidal racism are against this conference, it must be GOOD THING. If Mahmoud Ahmadinejad doesn't like a political development, it is probably good, especially if Khaled Meshal and the head of the Yesha council agree with him.

As Aluf Benn pointed out, we should not expect much in terms of concrete progress toward peace in this conference, not only for the reasons that Benn gives. Olmert is too weak to make territorial concessions , and Abbas is too weak to give up right of return, as Benn noted. Beyond that, Mahmoud Abbas is not in control of the show. He doesn't control Gaza, and Israeli intelligence estimates that Hamas is as strong in the West Bank as in Gaza. The draft agreement between Israel and the Palestinians that has been leaked, has a note added in the last line:

Note: Outstanding question for consideration -- How to address the situation in Gaza in the document?

A minor problem to them. Actually, it is a show-stopper. The problem is not how to deal with Gaza in the document, but how to deal with it in reality, not just in Gaza, but in the West Bank as well. It won't do for Israel to retake Gaza and hand it over to the Fatah, as that would be the end of Abbas's credibility. Fatah is not strong enough to oust Hamas on its own. The nightmare scenario for Israel, and perhaps for the Palestinians, is one in which a Palestinian state is formed, and then it is taken over by Hamas.

Mahmoud Abbas doesn't even control his own Fatah or other non-Hamas groups. Gunmen of the Fatah Al-Aqsa brigades group, supposedly under Abbas's control, killed a settler recently, and in Ein Beit El Ma refugee camp, PA forces battled PFLP "resistance" group fighters who would not give up their arms. Disarming the militias and forming an orderly society is going to be extremely difficult. All these groups want political power. They all understand and believe that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun, and therefore they will disobey the order to surrender arms as long as they can, under the guise of "resistance." In reality, they are resisting the lawful Palestinian government. Abbas, with the help of the international community, must come up with a plan to carry out new Palestinian elections. In free elections, it is a virtual certainty that the Hamas would lose, especially after the recent bloody suppression of the memorial demonstration. The problem is how to hold free elections, and how to enforce their results. Hamas practices the sort of democracy that believes in one man, one vote, one time.

Therefore, we cannot expect much from the Annapolis conference. However, holding it will in itself be a triumph and not holding it after it was announced would have been a disaster. At the recent Arab League summit, the Arab League states renewed the Arab peace initiative. If this initiative is to ever have any substance, a process of negotiations and implementations must begin sometime. The Arab states cannot go on forever saying it is not the right time, because it will never be the right time. The Annapolis conference can advance the Arab peace initiative, and the backers of that initiative can gain something from it. The US, which is holding the conference to gain support for its Middle East diplomacy and perhaps to form a coalition against Iran, will gain from the conference as well. Those who come to the conference are making a statement by their attendance. Israel, as Aluf Benn pointed out, will gain from supporting the US. The Palestinians and the government of Mahmoud Abbas will gain more than anyone else. The conference puts the Palestinian issue back in the center of Middle East politics, though many would like to see it sidelined. The conference also does for Mahmoud Abbas, what Yasser Arafat's UN appearance did for him: it makes Abbas the acknowledged leader of the Palestinians.

Peace itself will have to wait. What we learned from the Oslo process is that peace is not a piece of paper. Agreements cannot make peace happen if they are not supported by reality and the good will of the sides, but the conference can help to change the reality.

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/00000648.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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