Wednesday, October 17, 2007

No more photo ops please

Oct.17, 2007

No more photo opportunities please

THE political leaders of Israel and the US are anxious that the proposed conference on Israeli-Palestinian peace is not only held but also produces something tangible that could be shown to to their constituencies and the international community even it leads to nowhere thereafter.
That is the bottom line. However, for the Arab World and the Palestinians it is imperative that the conference is turned into a solid platform for launching an irreversible process that would lead to comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace by addressing all dimensions of the conflict.
US President George W Bush wants a diversion of world and domestic attention from the fiasco he created with the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The conference itself and some sign of progress towards Israeli-Palestinian negotiations — even without any certainty of where the process would lead to — seem to be acceptable to Washington, which would soon enter the throes of presidential elections, and no one could be expected to give Arab-Israeli peace a priority.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is haunted by last year's Lebanon debacle and graft scandals, hopes that the conference would take some of the heat away from the political pressure that is being brought to bear upon him as allegations surface one after another. At the same time, he is playing his cards close to his chest and is also careful that he gives away little to the Palestinians in any peace agreement.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who received a serious setback with the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June that gave an ugly twist to the Palestinian struggle for independence, is anxious to lift the logjams and resume negotiations with Israel based on clearly defined goals which include the creation of an independent Palestinian state with Arab East Jerusalem as its capital. Abbas seems to believe that an agreement with Israel on clearly defined principles for peace even while Hamas, which is calling for a boycott of the conference, remains in control of Gaza would be an answer in itself to his rivarly with the Islamist group and open doors for internal Palestinian compromises.
The Arab World is sceptical in the absence of a clear affirmation on the part of the US that the Arab initiative would be the central pillar of any Arab-Israeli peace agreement because the initiative offers the best terms for both sides if there is mutual trust and confidence and commitment to international legitimacy and UN resolutions.
That explains why Egypt has demanded that the conference be postponed if there is no prior agreement on the basis for the talks. Similarly, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries have stated that they find the proposed meeting a wasted effort without clearly agreement in advance that justice, fairness, logic, reason and international legitimacy — as enshrined in the Arab initiative — would be the basis for peace in the Middle East.
It is the most valid and relevant demand at this point in time. There is no ambiguity there. The objective of the proposed meeting should not be serving the internal political agendas of the players involved, but creating a process based on solid grounds leading to just, fair, comprehensive and durable Arab-Israeli peace. If it takes time to set the proper ground and pave the way towards this objective, let it be so. The US-proposed conference or any other forum to discuss Arab-Israeli peace should not be turned into a photo opportunity. We have seen enough and more of that already.