Annapolis : President Bush visit in the Middle East (9-16 January 2008)

President Bush began Wednesday, January 9 a tour in the Middle East beginning with a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories and that will continue then in Kuwait, Bahrain, the UAE, Saudi Arabia to finally end in Egypt on January 16.

The visit was described as historic because it was the first time that GW Bush was on a trip to Israel / Palestine since the beginning he was in the White House. For this visit, he respects the commitment he made at Annapolis on November 27 last, which was to get personally involved in the peace negotiations.

Preparations

The media has placed great emphasis on the risks that this visit involved for the President. Two calls have been launched on the Internet to encourage all types of attacks against the occupant of the White House, one by al-Qaida, the other by an American converted to Islam. The safety device that has surrounded the trip was planned accordingly.

On the diplomatic front, Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas have held a bilateral meeting on the eve of the arrival of GW Bush to expedite the start of direct bilateral negotiations on various hot spots of the peace process: Jerusalem, the refugees, the settlements and the borders, in order to achieve the construction of a Palestinian state at the end of the year 2008. But yet on Monday, January 7, no apparent result came out of a meeting held between the two heads of the negotiations, Ahmed Qorei and Tzipi Livni.

The positions on the one hand and the other remain actually unchanged. Israel accuses the Palestinian Authority of failing to stop the firing of rockets from Gaza, and puts security as a sine qua non condition for progress in the negotiations. The Palestinians want for their part the complete freezing of the settlements and the cessation of IDF incursions into their territories, wich dicredits work of the security forces in Palestine.

Bush Visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories (9-11 January 2008)

In such a context, Bush’s visit could not change anything concrete. The American President has reiterated that he hopes to reach agreement before the end of its mandate. He stayed in Jerusalem on the 9 on the morning of January 11 and paid a visit to Ramallah on the 10.

During his different meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials, he tried to put pressure on the parties to make concessions. For Israelis, he recommended to cease all construction in the settlements and also recommended to let the Palestinian Security Forces to do their jobs. Concerning the Palestinians, they received the advice to regain their authority over the whole of their territory, including Gaza.

One point seems remarkable: the fact that Bush has recommended that Israel not to encroach on the area of expertise of the Palestinian Security Forces and thus hamper the credibility and therefore the modernization of Palestinian authorities. But he also stressed Israel’s right to protect itself facing criticism from Palestinian on Israelians check-points and other security measures affecting their daily lives.

Bush also said that Lieutenant General William Fraser, deputy chief of staff of the American Army would ensure the implementation of the Road Map concerning the freezing of settlements and the fight against terrorism. Close relatives of the President implied that another visit of Bush in the region during the year was not to be excluded.

During the past two days, numerous demonstrations were organized on both sides: the Israeli settlers marched against American policy forcing them to freeze the settlements, while in Gaza demonstrations denounced the policy of the Bush administration in general.

The rest of the Middle East trip

Starting from Friday, January 11, Bush continued his tour by passing in the Gulf States: Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. In these countries, he tried to get support to the peace process initiated in Annapolis, but also support to isolate Tehran. Ryadh was cautious on the two subjects, saying that Saudi Arabia had nothing against Iran and the Arab countries could not make more concessions than they already did (see Arab Peace Initiative).

The American president has completed his journey by a four-hour shift in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, where he met with his Egyptian counterpart, Mohammed Hosni Mubarak. The little time devoted to Egypt illustrates the state of relations between the two countries. Bush highlighted the efforts that Egypt has to made in the field of freedom of expression and respect of human rights.

Conclusion

Six weeks after the conference in Annapolis, the results show no significant advance. The parties remain frozen in their positions, seem either slightly able to influence the opponents of the peace.

It should be noted that during the two days of Bush in Jerusalem and the West Bank, no tripartite meeting (Israel-Palestinians-USA) was held, which would have been beneficial.

Concerning Arab support the Annapolis initiative, it remains mixed. The neighbouring countries of Israel believe they have already made a big step with the Arab peace initiative.

Will Bush pressures be sufficient to get to a succes before end 2008? Despite the statements by the American president, the prognosis is not very optimistic.