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The Annapolis Meeting: Background and Expectations

The Annapolis Meeting: Background and Expectations By Eran Lerman Director, Israel/Middle East Office American Jewish Committee
JERUSALEM, November 25, 2007—The meeting to be convened by the United States in Annapolis, Maryland, on November 27 to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace will bring together President Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and a growing list of senior Arab dignitaries. Although characterized as a meeting rather than a peace conference or summit, in an effort to manage expectations, the event represents a significant step by the United States and by the elected Israeli and Palestinian leadership. Against formidable obstacles, progress can be made. But by design and by necessity, Annapolis will not be Camp David. This will be an event in which positions are set forth, and gestures will be made or hinted to, and made by, the international community and a number of Arab states. It will not be an event in which the principal players burrow into forced seclusion in the woods to resolve the key issues in contention. Those difficult discussions will come later. Unlike Camp David One, in the summer of 1978 (Menahem Begin; Anwar Sadat; Jimmy Carter), it is unrealistic to expect that Annapolis will yield a major breakthrough leading to a peace agreement in several months – made possible by equally breathtaking Israel concessions. The apocalyptic imagery of a massive sell-out, emanating from spokesmen on the far Right, is driven by largely baseless fears. Annapolis will launch a long and complex process, which is unlikely to produce a Permanent Status Agreement within the time left for the Bush Administration. At the same time, unlike Camp David Two, in the summer of 2000 (Ehud Barak; Yasir Arafat; Bill Clinton), this is equally unlikely to end with a loud bang of slammed doors, as mournful voices on the far Left have warned. It is unlikely that Abbas and his Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, an economist focused on the well-being of his people, are going to Annapolis to stage a dramatic failure in which they will blame Israel and America, igniting Arafat-style violence (which after all, proved to be disastrously futile) and calling on “the World” to intervene. What does Annapolis signify, then? In essence, four departures – for better or worse – from the realities of recent years: A direct leap to the Permanent Status negotiations, thus – in effect – canceling a key feature of the Road Map, namely Stage Two, which envisioned a Palestinian State with Provisional Borders. This was a prospect nominally accepted but rejected in practice by the Palestinian side. It greatly frightened Abbas, who had reason to suspect the permanence of all Middle Eastern “provisional” measures. The willingness, originally suggested by Foreign Minister Livni and eagerly adopted by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, to forgo the Road map sequence of negotiations by stages (but insist on it later, when we come to implementation) was in itself a major Israeli concession; Abbas earned it by right of his forthright stand against Hamas, and against the violent aspects (if not the national goals) of Arafat’s legacy.