PIJ and IPCRI on the Annapolis conference

The Palestine-Israel Journal co-hosted a discussion with the Israeli Palestinian Center for Research and Information (IPRCI) on the political atmosphere surrounding the upcoming Annapolis conference, its possibilities for success, and the ramifications of failure. The Notre Dame Center conference room was filled to capacity to hear Palestine-Israel Journal co-editor Ziad AbuZayyad discuss the topic with Ron Pundak, Director General of the Peres Center for Peace and architect of the Oslo Accords and Geneva Initiative. “The idea of the Annapolis conference is not a new idea,” Ziad AbuZayyad began, “There were many ex-American diplomats trying to encourage and promote this idea.” However, he continued, America’s role in the conference is far from altruistic: “The whole idea of Annapolis came to avoid the possibility of an international conference, AbuZayyad said. “This is a continued policy of the United States to prevent any international role in trying to solve the problem and prevent any third party from intervening.” “For me as a Palestinian, I see that Annapolis is convening in the shadow of George Bush’s letter of assurances to Ariel Sharon, which the Bush Administration committed itself to supporting the Israel policy of annexing areas of the West Bank,” AbuZayyad said. “I am worried about the outcome of this conference.” AbuZayyad cited a Peace Now report documenting 88 settlements currently under construction in the West Bank. “How can [Israel] speak about peace? How can [Israel] be preparing themselves for a conference and negotiating principles with a Palestinian team, while at the same intensively expanding settlements in the Occupied Territories,” he said. “No one is serious on the Israeli side in talking about this,” said AbuZayyad. Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas [Abu Mazen] might appear earnest in their pursuit of compromise, but the mood among the Israeli negotiating team, led by Tzipi Livni, is markedly different, said AbuZayyad. “How Tzipi Livni in negotiating with Abu Allah [Ahmad Qurei'] is totally different than the spirit which Olmert is talking with Abu Mazen." The respective leadership teams have not drafted the needed document required by the Americans as a prerequisite to meet, noted AbuZayyad. Even so, the current formula for the conference addresses only general issues, leaving Jerusalem, refugees and settlements to a later date. "What is the benefit of this?" asked AbuZayyad. AbuZayyad also stated concerns over a possible Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip speared by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, whose political aspirations benefit from insecurity. "I hope I am wrong," said AbuZayyad, "but I don't think anything serious will happen [in Annapolis]." Ron Pundak struck an urgent tone in his analysis of the upcoming conference. "We cannot allow the collapse of Annapolis," he said. "Olmert is as serious about peace under the agreed upon parameters as Abu Mazen was in 1988," when he, Yassir Arafat and the PLO endorsed a two-state solution. The conference, though, is not without its difficulties, noted Pundak. Kadima's orientation as a center coalition party puts right wing elements at the heart of Olmert's constituency. "Some of Kadima's members in the Knesset are worse than the Likudniks," Pundak warned. Similarly, the political divisions within the Palestinian Authority are equally deleterious to the prospects for success, said Pundak. Internal splits within Fateh between Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Mahmoud Abbas as well as Hamas' silent obstructionism portend failure. "Hamas is quiet today because they believe everything will collapse," said Pundak. "And if everything will collapse, why should they be the spoiler?" "[Hamas] will just enjoy the collapse and say 'as we told you always [success] is only through the arms,'" said Pundak. "Now is a time when bilateralism is not enough," he added. "I am not an advocate of the Americans, specifically not of this administration." Nevertheless, it is only America that can save this conference, declared Pundak. "This administration needs a success," said Pundak. George W. Bush's dissolving Middle East foreign policy is also coupled with a fair American secretary of state engaged with the issues. "[Condoleezza Rice] will not buy the traditional games of the conservative Israelis on the negotiating team." Pundak hoped American negotiators would stand firm if Olmert begins to waver on peace. "To be too much pro-Israel is actually minimizing our power," he said. Despite constituencies among both Palestinians and Israelis that will reject any agreement, said Pundak, "We have a 60-70% majority on both sides that will accept something." If a statement comes out of Annapolis that mentions Jerusalem as two capitals or one-to-one land swaps along the 1967 borders, this will be major progress, said Pundak. It could bring intensive dialogue and negotiations leading to a comprehensive agreement in the months following. "We have an American administration willing to stick its neck out," said Pundak. There is also a political process that might allow the [Palestinians and Israelis] to sell [compromise] in an easier way to its constituencies. "There is hope," Pundak concluded.

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