Annapolis : results of the conference

Although the pessimistic forecasts which it was the subject, the Annapolis conference has effectively launched a new phase of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, even the Israeli-Arab one. Israelis and Palestinians have agreed to work together for peace. And United States pledged ongoing support to the negotiations. Yet this overall optimism seems to overlook the many obstacles facing the negotiators.

Positive Results

At the end of the conference on Tuesday, November 27 at Annapolis, Israelis and Palestinians have agreed on the revival of the peace process. The talks wil begin Wednesday, December 12th by the meeting of the Coordination committee. Negotiations will continue later in bilateral committees that will address specific aspects of the negotiations (Jerusalem, refugees, borders, settlements …).

The process will be led by Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and the former Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority Ahmed Qorei. Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas will meet for their part every two weeks.

In Israel, a new administration will be established before December 12 to support logistically the negotiators. On the Palestinian side, a Department of negotiations already exists within the PLO. This organization, and not the PA, negotiates on behalf of all Palestinians.

The United States also engage in the process. GW Bush said he would involve himself to promote its success. Condoleeza Rice has appointed General James L. Jones to ensure local compliance with the measures taken during the negotiations.

Finally, it should be noted that Syria has also expressed its satisfaction at the conclusion of the conference, although no measure have been taken with Israel on the Golan. Russia has also announced that it would organize a conference to address future priority of this problem, as well as the Lebanese issue.

Annapolis has the merit of bringing for the first time all the Arab leaders around the table. But their relations with Israel are not yet standardized. If we refer to the Arab Peace Initiative, it can happen only if Israel restitutes all Arab territories taken since 1967.

But beside that optimism emerging from the conference, many shadows are hanging over the future negotiations. Basically, it is possible to divide the barriers into two groups depending on their occurrence in time.

Present Problems

Although some people claim the contrary, the current climate is not appropriate to the conclusion of a peace treaty.

First USA, sponsor of the conference, see their international credibility going more and more down, especially in the Middle East. The Bush administration has no longer than a year to solve three problems in the region.

First, the American forces get still bogged down in Iraq. The situation there does not improve. The best hope for next year is a reduction in the level of violence. The second problem is Washington’s goal to overcome Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Thirdly and finally, the White House has now undertaken an attempt at Israeli-Palestinian peace. A success in all three areas is hardly possible, one may wonder what will be the American priorities in 2008.

Then the internal political situations, both in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, are not conducive to the establishment of peace.

In Israel, the government of Ehud Olmert has lost legitimacy because of his mismanagement of the war against Lebanon in 2006 and because of a few cases of corruption. Moreover radical settlers violently opposed to any attempt at peace with the Palestinians.

The situation is not stable on the Palestinian side where the PA headed by Mahmoud Abbas governs only the West Bank. Hamas has indeed declared secession from the Gaza Strip in June 2007. But opponents of the peace conference are not only in the Gaza Strip, many supporters of Hamas or the Party of Islamic Liberation were suppressed by the security forces of the PA. If negotiations fail, will the credibility of Fatah be released intact?

Therefore the period does not seem propitious, but nevertheless these obstacles can be overcome if negotiations end successfully. It should also be remembered that the deadline is not far away to reach an agreement : negotiators fixed late 2008 as a target date.

Recurring Problems

Since the Camp David agreements of 1978, many attempts at peace have been started, but none resulted. In 2003, the Quartet (United Nations, United States, EU and Russia) establishes « the Road Map ». It envisages the creation of a Palestinian state in a period of 3 years.

The Annapolis conference remains in the same framework as the Road Map. The goal is also to overcome all problems and without any taboo. Negotiators must therefore reach an agreement on the status of Jerusalem, the return of refugees, the borders, the dismantling of settlements, access to water and economic cooperation.

It should be noted that during the preparations of Annapolis conference, leaders on both sides have failed to agree on a common basis for negotiations. The ability to find compromises on these issues seems thus limited.