The Grinch Who Stole Annapolis

Two months into my daughter’s first year at school, she sat with her frieds, on oversized chairs, for the obligatory class photo that will forever serve as the official memento of her 2007-2008 Pre-K year. The school year may be barely two months old and still have some 80% of the way to go, but we already have the memento.

The analogy to President Bush’s much vaunted Middle East peace even in Annapolis should be obvious: Having heard the warnings from all and sundry that a failed conference is far more dangerous than no conference at all, the Bush Administration has acted prudently to avoid the danger of failure — by making the objectives of the event so nebulous as to make anything short of a fistfight between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas a sign of success. A “peace conference” designed to last less than 24 hours and whose official objective is now simply to launch a year (or more, depending on who you ask) of ongoing negotiations on the shape of a two-state peace plan really amounts to nothing more than a class photograph taken at the beginning of a year — except, of course, unlike a school photograph, there’s a lot less clarity over what, if anything, will happen at the end of the that year. In its most ambitious objective, right now, the Annapolis conference is for Israelis and Palestinians to joinly sign on to a suitably vague set of general principles and good intentions (or reiterating principles covered years ago) to launch that year (or more, depending on which side you ask) of conversation. Even that, we are told, is in doubt, and the two sides may have to issue separate statements of good intention and vague principles — although it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that this was simply good media management, i.e. diminishing expectations to such a point that a joint declaration of vague principles and good intentions will be treated as a “breakthrough.”

Some of my colleagues whose views I respect and who pay close attention to these things see grounds for optimism: My friend Scott MacLeod sees the event as signaling a turnabout by the Bush Administration, in which the U.S. will now turn belatedly but seriously to its long-neglected responsibility to see the parties through to a viable peace agreement. He notes the potential pitfalls, but argues, along with the International Crisis Group that if the Bush Administration does the right things in the year after the event to keep the process going, Annapolis could be the beginning of a decisive turn for the better.

But, unfortunately, I feel compelled to play the Grinch. Here are some reasons why:

  • This is not about a process, it’s about an horizon
  • When Ariel Sharon walked the Bush Administration back from the previous administration’s approach to completing the Oslo process, he succeeded in getting the U.S. to take the question of a political solution off the table altogether. According to President Bush’s Roadmap, there would be no discussion over the shape of a two-state solution until the Palestinians had complied with the Roadmap’s security demands, i.e. dismantled Hamas etc. At the time, some like current Israeli president Shimon Peres, warned that this was removing even a political “horizon” from Palestinian political life, giving those most cooperative with Israel nothing to point to in their argument against those more inclined to resistance. Essentially, what Annapolis is doing is reviving the idea of the “political horizon,” beginning open-ended conversations about what might transpire if those security steps are met. But the Israeli leadership is absolutely clear, internally, that none of this will be implemented, because there is simply no chance of the current Palestinian leadership being able to deliver on the terms of Phase I of the Roadmap. Everyone knows the parameters of a two-state political settlement, because those have been exhaustively negotiated through Camp David and Taba. The current discussions are essentially covering all the same ground, with no likely departure from the consensus achieved at Taba in the weeks before Sharon came to office. But an horizon, by definition, is beyond reach.

  • Abbas has no control in Gaza, and it’s not clear how much he has in the West Bank
  • When the Western powers suggested, at Yalta, that the Pope be brought into discussions over the shape of post-war Europe, Stalin famously retorted, “how many divisions does he command?” The same is essentially true for Abbas. The Israelis and Americans are going into talks now with a Palestinian leadership unable to deliver. And they know it. This is talking for the sake of talking, and showing that talks could potentially lead somewhere under very different circumstances.

  • The Palestinian Authority and the Arab regimes have no leverage or alternative
  • All of those regimes, including Abbas’s, who have thrown in their lot with the floundering Pax Americana in the Middle East have no alternative but to show up at Annapolis, and hope — against hope — that the Bush Administration is ready to do more than it has ever done to press the Israelis into withdrawing from the territories conquered in 1967. What they’ll get, though, at best, is a process that promises to reach that point at some unspecified date in the future. Still, where else are Abbas and the Arab regimes going to spend next Tuesday?

  • Bush is a lame duck, in an election year, and besides…
  • The idea that any U.S. Administration can press Israel to do things that it’s not comfortable doing (and peace cannot be comfortable for the Israelis, as we’ve seen) under present circumstances in Washington is naive. And that’s even before we get to the point that all players now realize that the current administration has only a year left in office, and the Israelis probably needn’t fear a less indulgent Administration if the Democrats win in 2008. The Palestinians are hoping it can only get better after Bush, but then they believed it would get better when he replaced Clinton, too. Even on its short fuse, it’s far from clear that the Bush Administration actually understands what is required for peace, if the letter Bush signed guaranteeing Israel’s claim on settlement blocs that the U.S. had previously regarded as illegal and illegitimate, is anything to go by. Don’t ask these guys to come up with a map…

    At best, Annapolis and the year that follows is going to be more process, but certainly no peace. U.S. power in the region has continued ebb, sharply, and the basis for believing that a bilateral process between Israel and the PA can achieve a two-state solution today appears hopelessly naive — the balance of power between them, and within each side’s electorate, essentially precludes it. The only basis for achieving a two-state solution now, if one is still possible (which I wouldn’t bet on), is for such a solution to be enforced by the international community. Essentially, it would require the United Nations to give the force of international law for a framework that defined the borders and other final status issues between the two, and pressed both sides to accept that framework — it may be easier for politicians on both sides to be presented with an offer they can’t refuse, rather than to have them face their electorates on the basis of negotiating compromises that their political bases would deem impermissible. After all, Israel came into being on the basis of the international community telling the inhabitants of British mandate Palestine that it would have to be partitioned. It’s not like there’s no precedent. But somehow, I think you’ll agree, that’s extremely unlikely to happen.

    Which means that Bush will leave office with his Annapolis class photo, and the next U.S. president have to pick up the pieces.

    This entry was posted in Situation Report, Unholy War. Bookmark the permalink.

    27 Responses to The Grinch Who Stole Annapolis

    1. Jorge says:

      If one were to take the Bush administration at its word – a Herculean task at this point – it would have been better for the Bush administration to have ZERO peace conferences in 8 years than to come together at the end of year 7 just for the sake of putting one on the books.

      It is better to say, “Look, we’re only going to have a conference if you guys (Palestinians and Israelis) are serious about peace.”

      Having set that standard early in its administration, Bush to have caved to the idea of a conference just for the photo-ops. Which just goes to show that the HARD LINE ultimately turns limp in the face of reality and pride.

    2. Jorge says:


      Having set that standard early in his administration, Bush appears to have caved to the idea of a conference just for the photo-ops. Which just goes to show that the HARD LINE ultimately turns limp in the face of reality and pride.

    3. Shlomo says:

      Yeah, this is all a joke. Even if there is eventual recognition for isreal, this recognititon will be a joke because none of the thuggish Arab dictatorships have legitimacy amongst their people. It is useless to make “peace” with these dictators as simultaneously, their oppressed populations become more and more anti-Israel. Israeli/U.S. foreign policy is still primarily designed to shut the Arab people up, not to de-radicalize them by giving them a modicum of control over their own destiny. You can’t make peace by dumping weapons on one faction so it can subjugate all the others. Never has worked, never will.

    4. Pingback: Low your expectations | Antony Loewenstein

    5. Bernard Chazelle says:

      Well said, Tony.

      What’s this talk about process / horizon anyway? Is there anything left to negotiate? And who can think for a minute that for 7 years Bush can take his marching orders from AIPAC and then in his lame duck year turn all of this around? I’m afraid that train long ago left the station.

    6. Patrick says:

      I saw David Brooks of the New York Times yesterday on the Lehrer News Hour program. When asked about the chances of success of the Annapolis meeting all Brooks could say is that the real purpose of the conference was to forge an anti-Iran coalition. If he’s correct in this, then the whole exercise is really a cynical manipulation of the aspirations of the Palestinians for statehood.

    7. Joshua says:

      The talks is predicated on Palestinian rejection: offer them something cannot accept and blame the failure on them. It’s especially odious that the new concession is to recognise Israel “as a Jewish state” ie defining that Israel has a right to be discriminatory against non-Jews aka Palestinians.

    8. Piotr says:

      In my opinion this conference is only on show nothing will happen and Bush and Olmert will do everything in order to show that Palestinians are guilty of her failure. Abbas doesn’t has no authority among Palestinian only Israel army and Dahlan mercaneries support him

    9. Matthew says:

      America cannot play a positive role in this conflict because American domestic politics will not allow it. Our politicians will only accept the framing of this conflict as “poor Israel, mean Arabs.” Even the constant mantra about “Israeli security” implies that Israel’s concerns are the primary objective of this process. Arab concerns are always….always an afterthought. Recall how Condi told the Palestinians years ago that they had to accept the Road Map without reservations, but then she made no objection when Israel accepted the Roadmap with about a dozen “reservations,” (read: new conditions.) That pretty much defines what we mean by “evenhanded” negotiatiors.

      Has anyone ever considered that our policies are ineffective because they are just plain wrong?

    10. Hello the article is delightful.
      I will definitely read your site..
      thank you again

    11. Hello this article is stunning.
      I will definitely read your blog..

    12. Amazing post.
      I am sure you’ll check out our site..

    13. Hi this message is funny.
      I will definitely read your site..

    14. Sweet message.
      I guess you will like my page..

    15. Thanks this comment is amazing.
      I like your diary..
      Thank you

    16. NY Sunbed says:

      Hello the message is amazing.
      I like your diary..
      See ya

    17. Brenda says:

      I enjoy reading your posts, keep them coming

    18. Portable beach chair easy and light to carry. Sit, recline, relax and enjoy Beach Chair and beach seat presented by Orthoseat Take it anywhere you go

    19. van kalesi says:

      Thanks this comment is amazing.

    20. America cannot play a positive role in this conflict because American domestic politics will not allow it.

    21. Right now it sounds like Movable Type is the top blogging platform out there right now. (from what I’ve read) Is that what you are using on your blog?

    22. izmir escort says:

      I am sure you’ll check out our web site

    23. Ravi says:

      Hi Yaakov, you are right in that the general puiblc’s perception of Iranians is very skewed and biased not only due to the actions by the occupational Islamic Repuiblc in Iran, but also because of the biased portrayal from the main-stream-media.The Iranians I know are descendants of Cyrus the Great who freed the Jews from captivity in Babylon and built an Empire which was the envy of the ancient world; an Empire famous for the tolerance and respect it had for people of different races and faiths NOT descendants from a thief/rapist/killer/hate-mongering Bedouin Arab (Mohammed). You must take into account that 1400 years ago the Arabo-Muslim hordes overran our Empire which was at its weakest stage in history as they did with other nations. They imposed this ideology of theirs (Islam), which has become a thorn in the eye of the modern civilized world, through brute force and intimidation. Although the Arabs were kicked out of Iran the ideology had already grown roots and its proponents (mullah’s) had gained such a foothold in the society that it was able to thrive on peoples’ ignorance/weaknesses and through their own deceitful ways and lies. It was only in the 20th century that the origins of this ideology began to be investigated and questioned by Iranian scholars which only intensified after the Islamist took over the country in 1979. And it was only in the 20th century under the Pahlavi Dynasty that Iranian roots were once again being revived and emphasized after 1400 years.Today many Iranians are more in touch with their roots and the roots of this foreign ideology than ever before – which gives me hope of a better future for my motherland.At this moment it’s important for our Israeli/Jewish friends to be able to distinguish between the terrorist Islamic regime which has foreign loyalties and has been imposed upon the Iranian people. Just imagine having Israel occupied by fundamentalist ruthless Muslim Arab’s who work 24/7 to indoctrinate and brainwash you into their line of thinking and you will begin to understand what Iranians have been experiencing for 1400 years.It’s not an easy task which the Iranian people have been entrusted with, that is why it’s imperative that those who seek peace, stability and prosperity in the region support the Iranian people against their Islamist oppressors.

    24. read more says:

      Great post. I will be going through many of these issues as well..|

    25. Tammy says:

      Hello to all, the contents present at this web page are truly remarkable for people experience, well, keep up
      the good work fellows.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *