Israel: Blogger's Views on the Annapolis Summit

The Annapolis Conference, held on November 27, 2007 at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, ended with the issuing of a joint statement from all parties. Over the past week, Israeli bloggers shared mostly pessimistic voices around the topic of this conference. Many are cynical to the possibility of peace emanating from these leaders who have little support from their people.

Even though mostly pessimistic, this post from oleo's blog displays a slight optimism claiming that leaders with little support have little to lose, a situation which enables them to take on more risks when aiming to reach a common solution:

The leaders are coming from the bottom of an abyss. Olmert's support is still low after the last war, even though it increased slightly when his sickness was found. Abu Mazen's situation is also not the best amongst his people. If he does not bring political and economic improvement to the Palestinians, he will not be able to stay in his position much longer. And above all, president George Bush's situation is bad. He finished two terms with no substantial accomplishment. He will be remembered as the president who placed America in the Iraqi mud, and will be held responsible to the deaths of thousands of soldiers there. In order to change his mark in the history books from a person who lead the world to war to a man who leads the world to peace, he needs to host a compelling peace agreement; and what peace agreement is more sought after than the one between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Annapolis conference will be remembered as the conference of the hated. Not one of the sides, including the mediator himself, has the support of their people. But perhaps because of this fact, the conference will succeed. When someone has nothing to lose, he starts thinking differently – he has the possibility to gamble, take a chance, which would not be possible if polls were in his interest.

We need to keep hoping that our leaders will be able to find the perfect formula in order to not enter unnecessary wars in the coming years. Because it is obvious that peace will not reign here in the near future; at least not until the people themselves realize the other people's right over their plot of land.

Uri Avnery‘s argument, published in the anti war blog, negates the optimism described above. He describes the Annapolis conference as a poker game where no player has spare cents to put on the table:

Bush is bankrupt. In order to succeed at Annapolis, he would have to exert intense pressure on Israel, to compel it to take the necessary steps: agree to the establishment of a real Palestinian state, give up East Jerusalem, restore the Green Line border (with some small swaps of territory), find an agreed-upon compromise formula for the refugee issue.

But Bush is quite unable to exert the slightest pressure on Israel, even if he wanted to. In the US, the election season has already begun, and the two big parties are bulwarks standing in the way of any pressure on Israel. The Jewish and Evangelistic lobbies, together with the neocons, will not allow one critical word about Israel to be uttered unpunished.

Olmert is in an even weaker position. His coalition still survives only because there is no alternative in the present Knesset. It includes elements that in any other country would be called fascist (For historical reasons, Israelis don't like to use this term). He is prevented by his partners from making any compromise, however tiny – even if he wanted to reach an agreement.

This week, the Knesset adopted a bill that requires a two-thirds majority for any change of the borders of Greater Jerusalem. This means that Olmert cannot even give up one of the outlying Palestinian villages that were annexed to Jerusalem in 1967. He is also prevented from even approaching the ‘core issues” of the conflict.

Mahmoud Abbas cannot move away from the conditions laid down by Yasser Arafat (the 3rd anniversary of whose death was commemorated this week). If he strays from the straight and narrow, he will fall. He has already lost the Gaza Strip, and can lose the West Bank, too. On the other side, if he threatens violence, he will lose all he has got: the favor of Bush and the cooperation of the Israeli security forces.

The three poker players are going to sit down together, pretending to start the game, while none of them has a cent to put on the table.

On a different note, Syria's presence at the Annapolis peace conference could help ease tensions in Lebanon, which has entered a leadership vacuum after rival factions reached deadlock over the election of a new president. Syria, which exerts powerful influence over the Lebanese opposition to the Western-backed government in Beirut, is attending the Annapolis conference after US officials agreed that the fate of the Golan Heights – Syrian territory occupied by Israel since 1967 – could be discussed.

In the JCPA blog, Pinhas Inbari describes part of the Lebanese argument:

As the Annapolis summit draws close, it becomes clear that even though the formal part will be designated to the Israel-Palestinian problem, the corridor conversations will deal with the Lebanese problem, and the possible return of Syria to the land of the cedar tree (Lebanon). One might notice that Siniora’s first reaction to the presidential crisis breakout in Lebanon was to send a delegation to Annapolis. It is clear if this is because of Olmert and Abu Mazen's problems, but because of a new trend appearing recently – Syria's responsibility over his country.

Syria is more than interested to return to Lebanon, and understands that its path to Beirut goes through Annapolis. For this reason, Syria decided to send a delegation to Annapolis, which will serve as a counter-force against Siniora's delegation.

There is a possibility that Siniora's team will try to make contact with Israel, even if indirectly through the Americans. Israel, on the other hand, will try to contact the Syrian delegation. Israel stands as one of the major engines to drive Syria back into Lebanon, in contrast with the public impression, Israel was not sympathetic about Syria's removal of forces from Lebanon. Even though it portrayed its formal support, Israel understood that there are many disadvantages to this move: pushing out a “responsible body” which is capable of restraining Hizbollah, raising the issue of the Golan Heights after the loss of Lebanon and turning Syrian targets in Lebanon irrelevant when Israel reacts to Hizbollah's attacks. From an Israeli viewpoint, as long as Syrian targets are attacked within Lebanon, a war-dynamic does not develop, as the tension zone is outside of Syrian territory. Attacking targets within Syrian territory might lead to a potential war in which Israel is not interested.


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