Monday, November 26, 2007
Will Annapolis Surprise Us All?
When making predictions about developments in the Middle East, I have learned to follow a simple formula over the past half-decade: imagine the worst and multiply that by two. At first glance, there seems little reason to deviate from that rule when thinking about what the Annapolis Summit, which begins on Tuesday, November 27, will bestow upon us. But pessimism is easy, so let us look deeper and find at least a few positive indicators. Annapolis may yet surprise us all.
The Americans - President Bush and Secretary of State Rice - desperately need a victory. They will be pushing down hard on the Israelis to make symbolic concessions, and to give the Arab states and Fatah something to write home about. Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, for his part, seems to have prepared the ground for some bigger concession. So far, he has faced relatively little opposition. Despite a few whispering campaigns and speeches, the far right has not been able to mobilize its mass base to preempt Olmert.
One of the bigger concessions that Olmert could offer may not be related to the Palestinians at all. Rather, it may involve some overture on the Syrian side of things. There is no doubt that Syria's participation at the summit is highly significant. It may yet prove disastrous, but the potential exists for a big move forward.
Meanwhile, the Saudis' main concern, whatever their rhetoric, these days is Iran. Together with Egypt and Jordan, they will seek to reverse the Iranians' impressive muscle-flexing in the Gulf region as well as in the Levant. They have no choice but to turn the summit into something that can be exchanged on the market of Sunni public opinion.
The Palestinians, i.e., Abbas, Fayad, and the Fatah gang, can least afford to fail. They need to use the summit as an opportunity to gain solid commitments to Fatah rule in the West Bank. This will be more important to them than adherence to settlement freezes - as important as these are to the long-term viability of a Palestinian state.
Of course, Annapolis will not end the qassam strikes from Gaza on Sderot. Nor will it stop the IDF incursions into and roadblocks in the West Bank. However, the summit may very well initiate a major shift in the US's public commitments to the creation of a Palestinian state. We may witness something similar to President Bush's historic June 24, 2002 speech, but this time with a pro-Abbas tilt.