The Annapolis conference is over before it started. Its fascinating discussions and earth-shaking decisions have not been conducted and made at the American port city, but at the Knesset in Israel. Here we are told, for example, about the approval of an amendment to the Basic Law on Jerusalem that needs the support of 80 MKs to make any change to Jerusalem's status. In this way a chunk of the core issues, as it were, has been jarred loose and gotten stuck in President Bush's eye.
Practically speaking, there is no need for such a law because the Reinforcing the Golan Law of 1999 already stipulates that any concession of territory under Israel's sovereignty requires a majority of at least 61 MKs and a referendum. True, 80 MKs is more than 61, but a referendum, which is not included in the new law, is no less serious an obstacle.
Later, MK Avigdor Lieberman demanded presenting the Palestinians with a condition for convening the Annapolis conference: recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. This is not a condition for signing a peace accord, heaven forbid, just a condition for starting negotiations. And why shouldn't Lieberman pose another condition, for example, of recognizing Israel as a democratic state and not only a Jewish one, precisely as the state defines itself? What does he fear? That the occupied Palestinians, who witness Israeli democracy at work at the checkpoints, will agree to recognize this condition?
In response to this condition of recognizing the Jewish state, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad said: "Israel can define itself as it likes, but the Palestinians will not recognize it as a Jewish state." Thus this issue has also come to an end in the Annapolis framework. Isn't it unnecessary to ask Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas why he cares about whether to recognize Israel as a Jewish state? Does he fear the reaction of the Arabs in Israel? And do they really not know that this is a Jewish state? Only Jewish?
Next came Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's impressive promise to dismantle unauthorized outposts and freeze construction in the settlements. This is ostensibly an unequivocal matter. Straight from the scrap heap called the road map, and Israel, of course, is scrupulous in implementing the road map. Just like the Palestinians. But which outposts is Olmert talking about? Those that have already won legal status or those that will in the future?
And which construction does he plan to freeze? Construction that has already started and is about to be completed? Construction in communities slated to remain in Israel's hands after the withdrawal? Construction that will be included in the framework of border adjustments? Or "only" construction designed to meet the needs of natural growth? And in general, will the freeze come after the Palestinians fulfill the road map's directive to stop terror, before this, or in parallel? And what does it mean to wipe out terror? Dismantle Hamas?
Under these conditions, even Lieberman can sleep in peace. He does not need any amendment of the Jerusalem Law or Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state. The road map includes all the obstacles needed to thwart an accord.
If all this were not enough to summarize the Annapolis conference, a major operation in Gaza is being promised by the Israel Defense Forces, an extraordinarily mighty one, a real war. How can Abbas travel to the conference in the U.S. when he knows he has to severely condemn Israel over the war it will wage in Gaza? How can he explain to the public in Gaza that during these very days Israel will dismantle outposts in the territories, but that he cannot persuade Israel to provide the Gaza Strip with regular supplies of fuel and electricity?
It is possible, of course, to lash out at the Annapolis conference, to portray it and its participants - including Bush and the leaders of Arab countries who may or may not attend - as actors in a play re-staged every few years in the hope that someday it will be directed in a more successful way. The problem is that a conference like this generates new dangers.
When Israel approves a new, constraining law in honor of the conference and on the Palestinian side the expression "Jewish state" becomes a minefield, one gets the feeling the conference will create more traps for the future instead of removing those of the past. The conference has already achieved one thing - Olmert can praise Abbas and say there is finally a Palestinian partner. But sadly for him, there is no Israeli partner.
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