Annapolis : description and challenges of the conference

On Tuesday, November 27, 2007, the Annapolis conference brings together Israeli and Palestinian delegations in the American Naval Academy located in the small town of Maryland, in order to lay the groundwork for negotiations for a final peace agreement and the constitution of a Palestinian State.

Some fifty states (Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the permanent members of the Security Council, the Arab countries and a plethora of other nations) and organizations (the United Nations, the Arab League, the European Union …) will participate.

The host and instigator of the conference are the United States.

On the eve of the plenary meeting, on Monday, a tripartite meeting between Mahmoud Abbas, Ehud Olmert and President Bush took place, and a first informal meeting of all delegations at a dinner hosted by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

What do we wait from this peace conference?

Actually, experts agree that the conference will not lead to much. To be sure, the same blockages occurred during its preparation.

– First, all Arab states were invited to the conference but few seemed excited to get there. Following a meeting of the Arab League on Thursday and Friday preceding the conference, they finally agreed to send a representative at ministerial level. Syria has agreed to the move on condition that the problem of the Golan is also discussed during the conference, which was accepted by Israel and the United States. While Saudi Arabia does get there to support the Arab consensus.

– Then, despite efforts by Condoleeza Rice to reconcile the two sides, the Israelis and Palestinians have not been able to agree on a common basis for negotiations. Mahmoud Abbas wants to set a deadline early 2009, before the end of Bush Presidency, for the establishment of a Palestinian state, while Ehud Olmert does agree to sign an agreement in principle on the creation of a Palestinian state as well as on key issues related thereto (Jerusalem, borders, Refugees) only if the Palestinians can guarantee Israel’s security.

We can add to these negative preliminaries, the lack of credibility currently enjoyed by the Bush administration in the Middle East, as well as the problems that the government of Mahmoud Abbas (secession of Hamas in Gaza) and that of Ehud Olmert (discredited by mismanagement of the war against Lebanon and corruption cases) have to face in their own countries.

What are the consequences in case of failure ?

A breakdown of negotiations in Annapolis would have serious consequences. Indeed weaken further Israeli and Palestinian governments. Hamas would appear strengthened, and its power could then spread throughout the Palestinian territory. Such a situation would lead then almost certainly to a new regional crisis.