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.


Danny said...

I think there is zero chance of anything positive coming out of this conference. At very best it will be a complete waste of time.

Olmert has no power to make any meaningful concessions - maybe remove the odd checkpoint here, odd caravan there. The "far right" has done anything because there is nothing to oppose. Post Lebanon war two there is no appetite for withdrawals on the Israeli population's side. Similarly with the best will in the world - which it is not sure Abbas has - he cannot deliver what Israel wants which is a guaranteed end to attacks on Israel, not just today, tomorrow or 30 years but forever.

The real outcome is going to be a strengthening of the extremists on the arab - and not so arab side - Hamas is predicting failure. Syria has sent a very junior official who will have only the power to accumulate any concession Israel offers but nothing else. Iran and Hizbollah has already called it a failure and in a short while will be proven correct. Again the Palestinians will collect any increased offer the Israelis make to be played at the next round whilst offering nothing substantial in return.

All of this because of a need on the US and Israeli side to "do something" and not have the patience to wait out the current unfavourable status quo and keep their powder dry for when something can be done.

Anonymous said...

Hazbani thinking.
It is strange , or not, that while people are looking to the USA much more important things are occuring in Lebanon.
The state is functioning without the christian -Maronite President.
The christians, once masters of Lebanon are divided between the pets of the Shiaa and the followers of the Sunna. Sunni prime minister and Shiaa speaker run the country, legally speaking. Hizballa has the guns,the money and the soldiers and nobody in Lebanon can mount any force against them. They have won. Just listen to Junbalat and see who are the real masters of Lebanon. Within less than 60 years the Christians of Lebanon once masters can see themselve becoming like the copts of Egypt and it is not a very promising future.

Amos said...

I think you're wrong. The summit froze out Hamas, and neither the Saudis nor the Syrians used the opportunity to oppose the US line, which has remained staunchly pro-Fatah.

As for "positive" things coming out of this conference - it depends on how you define the word.

There is no appetite for unilateral withdrawals in the Israeli public. There is, however, appetite for peace.

Danny said...

Amos, the conference didn't "freeze out" Hamas anymore than it did Iran. They simply did not want to come because Hamas rightly sees this as a meeting that will deliver nothing of substance and so they can continue to crow that "resistance" is the way forward.

I read somewhere that an opinion poll had something like two-thirds of Israelis believing that the Annapolis conference is a waste of time and the same poll had two-thirds of Israelis willing to make concessions for peace. It was a british newspaper and they were making a big deal about the apparent discrepency. However it goes back to what I said - Israelis are not holding onto the territories because of the far right, the medium right, lack of US pressure, Christian Zionists, Israeli lobby, green lizards from the planet Zorg or any other nonsense. They are not withdrawing because they have zero faith in the other side to deliver peace or even quiet. Until the Palestinians can guarantee we aren't going rockets in our population areas, there is only going to be deckchair rearranging.

ariel said...

In what sense can the Palestinians "guarantee" that no more rockets will be launched? If this is what Israelis are holding out for, it's going to be a long wait. Danny, can you give some concrete idea of what such a guarantee would actually look like?

Danny said...

Ariel, easy answer to that one.

The Palestinians can unify their armed forces so that only one centralised organisation has access to weapons. The people in charge of that organisation can then agree not to use them. I believe this worked rather well with Egypt and Jordan.

Amos said...

Hazbani - you are right of course. very scary things happening in Lebanon. it will be very difficult to keep it from turning into a solid Iranian outpost in the Levant. perhaps that has already happened. I haven't read Jeha for a while. Will check him out now.

ariel said...

Danny, do you see that as a likely eventuality anytime soon? I haven't been following the news much the last couple of days, but the demonstration in the West Bank didn't look good for Fatah from where I'm standing. I don't know the history very well, but if I'm not mistaken both Jordan and Egypt have considerably more of a centralized bureaucratic government legacy to draw on, going back to the British. I have to agree with you that I can't imagine much coming out of this conference, Bush's political imperatives notwithstanding.

Amos said...

I think people are underestimating the significance of Annapolis. For the first time, the prime minister of Israel is articulating the longer-term vision in the same terms as many critics of Israel's occupation of the West Bank: either a two-state solution or a descent into apartheid.

"If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished."

Danny said...

Ariel, no I don't see it anytime soon, hence why I think there is political capital being wasted on negotiations that won't go anywhere. In case anyone is confused it is "land for peace". It isn't land for "people will stop calling us nasty name"[they won't], land for "our prime minister will be praised as a visionary"[he won't], or land for "GWB's legacy"[I think Iraq one way or another will be his].

As for our PM's statements, he is building up a legacy of statements our enemies can use against us. It has to be one of the reasons anti-Israelism is so popular, you don't even have to write your own propaganda you can rely one of our idiots to say it for you.

The only thing to do is to knuckle down, stop wasting money on settlements and wait out the current unfavourable geopolitical situation whilst giving thanks everyday that our founding fathers weren't such incompetents.

Danny said...

Ariel, you may wonder why I harp on about rockets - and I know how you find comments from Israelis about "life in Israel" - but here is a picture of Tel Aviv from the West Bank, a full 15km away. You and Amos seem to be happy to bet my life that Abbas is a) sincere and b) capable of stopping violence because if you magnify the picture and look in the middle of it, you'll see a tall cylindrical building towering above all others. I live 10 mins walk from that building or about a second as the katuyusha flies.

As for Olmert's comments, I think he is a prime mover - along with Barak and Arafat - in ending hope for the two-state solution for the near future. By participating in a charade of a conference, it gives ammunition to Hamas/Hizbollah/Iran and others that talks are a waste of time.

Amos said...

I'm not betting anyone's life.

I was in Haifa when the katyushas hit the train depot.

I am as angry as you are about people who minimize the dangers posed by the qassams on Sderot.

Danny said...

Amos, the thing about Lebanon and Gaza is that most Israelis live in the center. Qassams fall mostly in desert. The north is far less populated than Dan region. Rockets fired from the West Bank are bound to kill Israelis because of the density of population. We also know the Palestinian groups have been trying to import rockets and failing.

I think there are geopolitical changes in the near future. Iran may have a large portion of oil and gas but cannot refine it and in the near future is predicted to not be able to pump that oil out and more than any summit that will change the ME. Will something be done to change Western dependency on oil? If Iraq does turn the corner how will that impact the rest of the ME? Will there be a civil war in Lebanon? What will happen post Mubarak? There are lots of imponderables out there and personally I see the next 5 to ten years as critical for Israel. I wish we had more competent leaders. One of the reason Olmert has survived is because there is no good replacement - Bibi? Barak? I also wish we didn't feel the need to shoehorn an "agreement" - which will inevitably fail - into an artificial timeframe and as such I oppose this conference and wish we'd spend the time internally developing a strategic view of what we want Israel to be.

Again to quote the Cheshire Cat - "If you don't know where you want to go, it doesn't matter which path you take".

Nizo said...

Amos, I don't see Israel giving up the Golan at any point in near future because they have little to gain from such a withdrawal. Their border with Syria has been quiet since 1973 and the Syrians will never attack alone. Besides, the Assad regime needs "existential threats" as part of it's ethos. A peace deal might set the liberalization process in motion and revive anti-baath elements and perhaps even the ikhwan (Islamic brotherhood whom have a bone to pick with the Assads thanks to the Hama massacre. )

The status quo is the best of all choices for Israel - and Assad - for the moment.

Danny said...

Nizo, if the rumours are correct then the sole benefactor of Annapolis was Syria who have got a green light from the US for the "compromise" presidential candidate Sulieman. Again I am basing this on gossip from Lebanese friends of mine.

But as I said before, I think the status quo is basically the best we can hope for at the moment. I don't see any appetite on the Israeli population's front for "painful concessions that carry substantial risks" to quote our idiot PM.