In theory the Annapolis summit between Israelis and Palestinians sounds like a good idea. It’s been a really long time since Israelis and Palestinians substantively talked about the possibility of peace. It’s been an even longer time since the Bush Administration actively involved itself in the dispute between the two parties and who even knows when was the last time an Israeli or Palestinian governmental official traveled to Annapolis? If you wonder why I mention this last issue it’s because that when looked at closely it’s the best, if not the only reason why anyone should be going to Annapolis.

Some such as Yossie Beilin have raised concerns that both sides are getting cold feet and side-stepping the major issues that need to be addressed at Annapolis. I hope Beilin is wrong. But if Sallie Meridor’s (Israeli Amb. to Washington) speech at a recent the Yad Vashem dinner in New York is any indicator, it seems Jerusalem is not even on the table. In a disturbingly political speech Meridor led the 700 plus person crowd in chanting never to forget Jerusalem. While normally such a message would be nothing more than the usual rhetoric of a respected and polished diplomat under such circumstances I found his words surprising, to say the least.
Likewise, in Israel the usual cast of characters are doing everything in their power to prevent the possibility of a viable peace agreement. As reported by Haaretz, Yisrael Beiteinu’s hardliner Avigdor Lieberman has put on the Cabinet’s calendar a motion that would make Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state a precondition for any negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.

However, my problem with Annapolis is not what issues will not be on the table. It’s that the critical parties will not be at the table and most importantly because the table itself might not be secure enough to put any issues on it in the first place. Best laid out by Israel’s leading policy think tank Reut, strategically there are serious concerns Israel should be taking into account. Reut offers a number of important ways Israel can avoid the roadblocks before them. But the concerns they raise are enough to worry even the most optimistic of observers. They are as follows:
*Although the Israeli and Palestinian negotiation teams are trying to formulate a joint statement that will be presented at the Annapolis Summit, both sides disagree on the type and scope of the issues to be included in the statement. Due to this disagreement, members of the Palestinian negotiation team are pessimistic regarding the Summit’s chances of success and fear that its failure will signal the end of Abu Mazen’s political career.
*Abu-Mazen has succeeded in maneuvering Israel (and the USA) back into an ‘all or nothing’ political process. The basis for Abu-Mazen’s strategy has been the ‘Package Approach’. This approach relates to reaching permanent status through one comprehensive agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, represented by the PLO, that resolves all historic issues emanating from the conflict as of 1948 (such as territory and borders, refugees and Jerusalem), as well as defines the principles of relations between Israel and a future Palestinian state…
The Package Approach assumes that the outstanding issues on the Israeli-Palestinian agenda are closely interlinked. …Hence, there is a need to deal with all the issues simultaneously in an all-inclusive, combined and comprehensive way….
The main structural weakness of the package approach is that it turns Israeli-Palestinian negotiations into an “all-or-nothing” exercise. Hence, for example, without an agreement on the holy places in Jerusalem, there will be no security or economic agreements.
*The issue of the Palestinian right for self-determination–would the establishment of a Palestinian state fulfill the right of self-determination of the Palestinian people in its entirety and take this issue off the agenda (See ‘Finality of Claims’)? Alternatively, even after the establishment of a Palestinian state, would a group of “Palestinians” continue to claim that their right to self-determination remains unfulfilled?
*The issue of Palestinian representation–who will the PLO and the Palestinian state represent after the establishment of a Palestinian state, whether it will be with provisional or permanent borders?
I would add one myself (but hardly my own): If Israelis and Palestinians manage to succeed in brokering a deal (whatever that deal might be) Hamas will probably not recognize its legitimacy and do everything in its power to undermine its chances for success. Conversely, if Israelis and Palestinians don’t come away with a substantive agreement on core issues Hamas will likewise claim victory and charge that only they truly represent the Palestinian people.
Look, I hope we see progress at Annapolis but I am not going to hold my breath.
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