by Jumana Az Jaouni
Palestinians are divided over the Annapolis conference on what exactly ‘we are looking for’. While President Abbas and the PA are keen to achieve a Declaration of Principles, or an understanding on final status issues, many are skeptical on the need to address these issues at this time. Refugees and Jerusalem are two taboos in Palestinian political culture. The general view is that such issues need to be addressed on a regional if not an international level, and not at a time of internal divisions within the Palestinian political society, and at a time of Palestinian weakness. Very few people have confidence that discussing these issues at this stage with the Olmert government would bring any good, as the Olmert government is not seen by Palestinians as a strongly led, representative government of Israel. There is growing fear that any discussion of the issues would entail further concessions. Better left unsaid, is the more popular view.
The definition of success is creating the means, e.g., a timetable and mechanisms for moving forward. For the Palestinians, an Israeli commitment to the first phase of the road map, freezing all settlement activities, returning to the September 28, 2000, redeployment lines, and renewing the liaison between the two sides is not enough. At a minimum there should be an action plan for an implementation follow up process. For tangible success to be seen and felt, progress needs to be made in addressing final status issues through engagement in serious negotiations that conclude in a final settlement to the conflict.
If the conference produces nothing, it would not be a major set back for any side, expectations are already too low. The Annapolis conference will fall under the category of ‘another lost opportunity’.
However, the Bush administration, the Israeli and Palestinian political leaders are capable of making the ‘no outcomes’ into bad outcomes when addressing the media.
On the ground, however, the cancellation of the opposition conference planned for November in Damascus lifts some pressure from President Abbas. In general, the conference is not a ‘make it or break it’ stop. Yet, another failure would add to the current frustration and disappointment from both leaders on the possibility for agreement between the two sides.