Sunday, November 25, 2007

Not many options in Annapolis

Nov.25, 2007

Not many options at Annapolis

Arab officials are making their way to the United State to attend the US-sponsored Mideast peace talks in Annapolis with a clear message: There would be no normalisation with Israel without a comprehensive peace, and the Annapolis meeting would not be allowed to be turned into a forum where Israel could boast of being formally recognised by the Arab World.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal went to the extent of publicly making it clear that there would be no public handshakes with Israeli officials at the gathering.
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa, who is leading the first Arab League team to a peace conference with Israel, is in Washington with the message that "there can be no normalisation except in the framework of the Arab peace initiative and in the framework of total peace."
For their part, the key players —  Israel, the Palestinians and the US — have said that they would all make a strong effort to make sure that the Annapolis meeting does produce something trangible towards setting the Palestinian problem.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the key Bush administration official who visited the Middle East eight times this year, should know better than anyone else of the prospects of Israeli-Palestinian peace, particularly in view of the failure of the two sides to produce a joint statement because of Israel's stubborn positions.
Israel's refusal to commit itself to a binding framework for peace with the Palestinians does not bode well for the success of the meeting. Another negative point is the US failure to make clear even on Sunday whether the Golan Heights on the agenda saying Syria would be free to raise any issue it wants. The US stand implies that Washington would want to assume no role in the Syrian-Israeli context at this point in time. Syria could raise the point, but it is most likely that the US would be cool at best towards the issue.
The only point of reference for the Arabs at this juncture is a US assurance that there would be discussions on a "comprehensive" Arab-Israel peace deal. Rice has also promised that the Annapolis meeting "is going to be a serious and substantive conference that will advance the cause of the establishment of a Palestinian state."
Despite all such statements and assurance, scepticism would not go away. Adding more to the uncertainty are observations by Washington insiders that Rice wants to use the Annapolish meeting to project herself as a peace-seeker and do away with the setback her image suffered as the strongest Bush administration official publicly ruling out a ceasefire during the 34-day Israeli assault on Lebanon last year.
No one expects the meeting to produce an Arab-Israeli peace agreement. The minimum expectation is of a firm framework for Arab-Israeli peace and a clear time-bound course towards final agreement. Hopefully, Rice would live up to her well-known adage that "failure is not an option."