Assessing the Annapolis 'Peace' Conference

"Has the autumnal conference on Palestine become a US presidential ritual?" asks a sarcastic Gammil Mattar, director of the Arab Centre for Development and Futuristic Research. "Bush's proposed conference (or assembly, or "meeting") for this autumn is obviously supposed to cover up, though I suspect it will crown, the flagrant and deliberate failures to handle the Palestinian-Israeli conflict fairly and justly."

Mattar's cynicism toward recent peace talks between the US/Israel and Fatah, is rather common in the East.

Indeed events leading up to the Annapolis "peace" conference, which is scheduled for later this month, have been quite telling. While the US media tends to portray the US and Israel as truly interested in a peaceful settlement to the Israeli/Palestinean conflict, the world-at-large is skeptical and rightly so.

For starters, Israel is unlikely to commit to even addressing specifics on the major issues such as borders, Jerusalem and the Palestinian right of return. According to Haaretz, Israeli Vice Premier Haim Ramon thinks "Israel and the Palestinians should delay tackling the issues on which they do not agree until after the upcoming Annapolis peace summit." And while Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert claims "all the fundamental questions and substantial problems will be on the table at Annapolis," the statements appear to be toothless, given Israel's actions as of late.

Stephen Lendman , reffering the Annapolis Conference as a Washington-led "peace offensive," writes:

"Middle East observers know what most honest ones will admit. The intermittent, now revived 'peace process' is merely pretense head fake. It's more theater than substance or a serious effort to resolve this long-running conflict, and look at the proof: daily IDF incursions, attacks and killings in the territories; continued land expropriations; crop destruction and agricultural restrictions;home demolitions; restricted movement through hundreds of checkpoints as well as curfews and border and other closures any time for any reason; building permit restrictions and construction prohibitions; denial of essential services; and other politically motivated daily repression and 'matrix of control' harassment. This all continues without letup with the full acquiescence and support of the West plus billions in annual aid from Washington."

Clearly, the aggresive actions of the Israeli government, do not bode well for the prospects for peace. James Zogby, of the the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, writes: "Israel, it appears, feels no real compulsion to respond to Palestinian requirements for peace, or to alter its behaviours. Evidence of this abounds. The above-mentioned seizure of Palestinian land for the purpose of building a bypass road and the ongoing efforts to expand settlements while continuing other disruptive projects in the occupied West Bank make this clear. So does the intensified blockade on Gaza that amounts to cruel collective punishment."

And of course no serious efforts to bring peace can happen without involving Hamas, who came to power in a 2006 election deemed free and fair by the international community. Even former Secretary of State Colin Powell has said: "[t]hey won an election that we insisted upon having... And so, as unpleasant a group they may be and as distasteful as I find some of their positions, I think through some means, the Middle East Quartet… or through some means Hamas has to be engaged."

But, not only has Hamas been barred from the conference, the population of Gaza, which was taken by Hamas from Fatah this summer, is facing collective punishment from the Israeli government which wants to cut electricity from the the already impoverished nation. Currently, around 63 percent of Gazan's live below the poverty line. Hamas has resonded to the situation by planning a conference of their own, which is to take place opposite the conference in Annapolis.

Zogby suggests that countries in the region work together to forge a path to peace that, unlike the current situation, is not being controlled bu the US and Israel.

To salvage the situation, Arabs need to aggressively pursue an independent strategy. Instead of being passive recipients of whatever ineffectual US diplomacy can deliver, and instead of allowing success or failure to be determined by the outcome of the asymmetric Israeli- Palestinian negotiations, Arab principals (including, at least, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia) ought to formulate and project a common position, the elements of which should include: a detailed account of Israeli behaviours that are destroying Palestinian life and impeding hope for an independent Palestinian state; a specific and realistic list of those Israeli actions that must end before any peace conference can occur; an elaboration of the Arab summit proposals that instead of using vague language about "full peace for full normalisation," spells out in detail what a final peace would look like and lays out the stages of its implementation, in sequence, and a realistic timetable for realisation of this state; and a call for a postponement of the proposed meeting until Israel and the US respond to this unified Arab call.

In any case, it is simply absurd, given Israel's aggresive actions, to think that a reasonable peace settlement that is acceptable to the Arab world will come out of the latest "peace" talks. By all accounts, this latest effort -- while good for photo oppurtunities -- appears to be the latest in a long line of US-backed charades.

And Bush and Olmert know it.