No such thing as a free summit
Another peace summit that will not alter the occupation and another agreement that depends on the graces of those opposing it will not only fail to bring peace closer - it will drive it further away.
It is true that, to date, U.S. President George W. Bush has not exhibited a great deal of wisdom in his dealings with the Middle East. But it hard to believe that the leader of the superpower and his aides do not recognize the risk they have taken by holding the Annapolis summit. One doesn't have to be Henry Kissinger to appreciate that the summit cannot end in nothing - zero. The size of the achievement, or the depth of the failure, will be proportional to the delegation level in attendance and the number of hours of TV broadcasts, mostly to the Arab world. The Arab leaders are not dispatching their foreign ministers to Annapolis to provide Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert with a group photo for their albums. If they do not return home with a blueprint for an end to the Israeli occupation, they will have to explain to their own populations the reasons why they spent time in luxury hotels in Annapolis while Palestinian children were digging through garbage for bread. Sooner rather than later, the United States will have to provide its Arab friends with answers.
Bush need not reinvent the wheel to ensure that tomorrow's declarations at Annapolis don't end up shoved at the bottom drawer with the road map and the Mitchell, Tenet and Zini plans. The principles of the final status agreement and the conditions for its implementation are more or less known. The challenge facing the United States is how to do away with "the chicken or the egg" conundrum: Should peace (the end to occupation) precede security, or should security come before peace? It is the United States' role to bridge between Olmert's concerns that if a final settlement agreement obliges Israel to withdraw from "Judea and Samaria," Hamas will then take over the area, and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' claim that an agreement ending the occupation is the only thing that will stop Hamas.
As a result of Abbas and Olmert's political weakness, the American bridge, whose cornerstone will be laid today, must be more stable than the leaders who cross it. The key lies in the U.S.'s willingness to create an external, international reality that is stronger than the internal, political reality in Israel and Palestine. In other words, the process must be stronger than those participating in it. If Saudi Arabia and its friends in the Arab world are to participate in the next peace conference, and not wish Annapolis never happened, three basic conditions must be met.
The first condition is that the basis for the process be Security Council Resolution 1515, which was unanimously passed in June 2004. According to this the solution to the conflict is the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel (not a Jewish state), on the basis of the road map. Bush's vision for two states must be added to the balance, and most importantly, the Arab peace initiative, which includes the normalization of relations with Israel and all the members of the Arab League. Accepting the initiative as a keystone will enable the Saudi King to openly visit Jerusalem, instead of trying to find ways to avoid the Israeli delegation at Annapolis.
The second condition is to set a date (it need not be defined as a "deadline") for completing the process, providing a detailed description of the interim stages and the time frame for achieving these. For example, this would include confiscating all illegal weapons or evacuating outposts. Israel has agreed to a timetable for the road map and it is now time to update that.
The third condition is to establish a credible mechanism to supervise the implementation of each stage. This means Israel will not longer be able to serve as both player and referee. The arbitrator must be as neutral as possible so that his ruling will be acceptable to both sides.
Bush Sr. understood that there was no such thing as a free summit. The day after the international conference that was held 16 years ago in Madrid, the U.S. administration risked a direct confrontation with Israel and the Jewish community in the United States. Bush forced them to choose between settlements and loan guarantees to pay for the absorption of new immigrants; between sabotaging relations with the U.S. and progressing in the peace process. Madrid led to the signing of the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn, to Camp David II and to the Clinton draft plan. Unfortunately, it also ended in seven years of violence. Another peace summit that will not alter the occupation and another agreement that depends on the graces of those opposing it will not only fail to bring peace closer - it will drive it further away.