Not at any price
From here, Annapolis looks like a fata morgana on a sizzling day in the Sahara Desert. Something whitish is visible on the horizon, but you cannot tell who or what it is.
From here, Annapolis looks like a fata morgana on a sizzling day in the Sahara Desert. Something whitish is visible on the horizon, but you cannot tell who or what it is. Only one thing is clear: There will be some summit, or meeting, or conference at which the parties will discuss an agreement, as close to final as possible, between Israel and the Palestinians. No official name for it has been chosen yet, and no exact date either. At the moment, no invitations have gone out, the guest list is not ready and no agenda has been set.
They are talking about November 26. If not November, than December. And if not December, then after the holidays, either before or after Ehud Olmert's surgery.
This project is the private initiative of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. After the failure of the American offensive in Iraq, she wants to give George Bush a farewell gift, a little something from our neighborhood. Bush's involvement will not resemble the very deep involvement of presidents Carter and Clinton at Camp David. This meeting is going to be a quickie. An international brief encounter, not an international conference.
The idea is to invite the Europeans, the Russians and any Muslim countries willing to recognize Israel in its 1967 configuration - in short, a multilateral gathering at which Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas star as peacemakers, but in sound bites.
It will be a forum not for negotiations, but for speeches, as well as a summarizing declaration of principles that will serve as a guideline for talks on the establishment of two states for two peoples. The content of the summit will be determined ahead of time, in talks conducted by Rice. If a decision to divide Jerusalem is reached in advance, Olmert will not have all of Jerusalem when he gets up on the dais. The plan is for everything that is said, or not said, at the summit to be worked out beforehand.
Saudi Arabia, for example, has already made it clear that it will demand the right of return. If it persists at this, Saudi Arabia will not be invited to take part in the summit.
There is an essential difference between Rice's involvement and Bush's. Rice can be tough with Israel, but only the president can twist Israel's arm. Bush, who is about to end his presidency without bombing any nuclear reactors in Iran or pulling American troops out of Iraq, wants Olmert to be prime minister of a secure Israel. Rice has instructions from Bush not to pressure Olmert into doing anything he thinks will endanger Israel's security.
President Bush is sticking to the principle of two states for two peoples living side by side. His road map begins with a Palestinian commitment to halt terror, but also with an Israeli commitment to dismantle settlements. There will be no international summit or encounter without a draft that sums up the core issues in the conflict in a manner acceptable to both sides.
Israel agrees to these rules. The trouble is that, in practice, any agreement that Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas sign at Annapolis will obligate only half of Palestine. Abbas will be stronger in the eyes of the world, but not in the eyes of most of his people. The Israeli public does not have the strength, emotional or otherwise, for another dummy compromise with the Palestinians.
What happened after the withdrawal from Gush Katif, with its removal of settlers by force, has left us deeply wounded and disappointed over the outcome of efforts to set aside the dream of a Greater Israel and shrink the power of the extremists in the settler camp. Sderot and other towns near Gaza have not enjoyed a moment's peace. It is hard to believe that a country as powerful as Israel is just sitting there and watching its cities being pounded by rockets day after day, year after year. Would Ariel Sharon go to Annapolis under such conditions?
Mahmoud Abbas and his aides, dressed in European suits that would even pass muster with a fashion connoisseur like Dalia Itzik, give the impression of seeking peace. But inside, they have not been cured of the chronic disease of never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity when it comes to establishing a state of their own, 61 years after the UN Partition Plan.
An agreement on the "core issues" could strengthen weak leaders, but only symbolically. Sooner or later, control of Palestine could fall into Hamas hands. Intelligence sources in Israel are shocked at the transformation of Hamas gangs into a genuine military force in Gaza, complete with uniforms, arms, instructors and Iranian ideology that may soon seep into the West Bank. Collective punishments like electricity cuts are not going to stop them.
The Olmert administration is taking a risk by agreeing to make concessions on core issues in the conflict with the Palestinian Authority. An agreement to which only half the Palestinian people are committed will not be worth the paper it is written on.
Olmert must go to Annapolis as Mr. Peace, but play Mr. Security when he gets there. Annapolis is good, but not at any price.