Friday, November 23, 2007

International Crisis Group - B22 The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Annapolis and after
The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Annapolis and After Middle East Briefing N°22 20 November 2007

The process that will be launched shortly at Annapolis may not quite be do-or-die for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process but at the very least it is do-or-barely-survive. Positively, a U.S. administration that neglected Middle East peacemaking since taking office appears committed to an intensive effort: it has persuaded both sides to agree to negotiate final status issues – no mean feat after years of diplomatic paralysis and violent conflict. But pitfalls are equally impressive. The meeting, like the process it aims to spawn, occurs in a highly politicised context, with sharp divisions in the Palestinian and Israeli camps. These will make it hard to reach agreement and harder still to sell it to both constituencies and, for the foreseeable future, virtually impossible to implement. Moreover, failure of the negotiations could discredit both leaderships, while further undermining faith in diplomacy and the two-state solution. To maximise chances of success and minimise the costs of failure, Israelis and Palestinians need to seriously confront permanent status issues, while taking steps to improve the situation on the ground; the U.S. and other international actors need to adopt a more proactive role, proposing timely compromises as well as imposing accountability for both sides’ actions; and a different approach is needed toward those (principally Syria and Hamas) whose exclusion risks jeopardising any progress. In the roughly four months since it was announced, Annapolis has gone through three incarnations. What began in July 2007 as a meeting cautiously focused on building Palestinian institutions metamorphosed – as a result of unexpectedly convivial dynamics between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas – into a conference to unveil agreed final status parameters. But hopes cooled as negotiators were unable to translate warm sentiments into dry ink. It now is meant to serve not as the culmination of a bilateral process but rather the launching pad for three simultaneous ones: permanent status negotiations; implementation of the first phase of the 2003 Quartet Roadmap; and gradual Arab-Israeli diplomatic engagement. The idea is for the two sides to reach a peace agreement; present it to their respective publics through elections or referendums; and condition implementation on Roadmap compliance. While virtually all attention has been given to the gathering itself, therefore, what truly matters is what follows it – chiefly, whether final status talks can succeed.

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