20 November 2007 - The buildup to Annapolis
I have written embarrassingly little—given the focus of this blog—about the upcoming Annapolis peace conference, which is shaping up to be the most significant attempt at Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy since the Camp David conference in 2000. Though much is still murky about the conference and its agenda, the preparations look much more thorough and careful this time around.
However, the Israelis seem unclear as to what they actually want to achieve at Annapolis. One moment, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is trumpeting the conference as a chance to grasp the reins of history; the next, he is trying to downplay expectations that anything will be achieved beyond an agreement on the basic framework of future negotiations towards a final settlement of the conflict.
The Palestinians are also playing cat-and-mouse, refusing to accept the principle of Israel’s right to exist as a specifically Jewish state. Perhaps they’re just posturing, but if they are serious then the conflict really is back to square one. They’re also insisting on the 1967 borders, which means going back on much of what’s been agreed over the past several attempts at peacemaking between the two sides.
I spoke recently to an Israeli policy analyst who pointed out that the Palestinians have an incentive to set Annapolis up as an “all-or-nothing” conference, where the final package of agreements has to be accepted or rejected in its entirety. This, he said, is a reversion to old Palestinian strategy—the same method that brought on the second intifada—except this time the blame might fall heaviest on the Israelis.
If it does, he suggested, then the Palestinians will push forward with their plan B: declaring Israel to be an apartheid state, and insisting on the one-state solution as the only feasible option for the future of the region. I’m not entirely convinced that would happen, or that it would be devastating to Israel if it did, because the Israeli plan B in the form of the security barrier is a more mutually beneficial last resort.
Still, failure at Annapolis might be more costly than the Israelis anticipated, and it doesn’t help that there are a whole bunch of paleocons running around telling everyone how important it is that Israel offer major concessions. Also, while the invitations offered to other Arab states are being hailed, past experience suggests they may goad each other into hard-line positions rather than pushing for peace.
It will be interesting to see what develops over the next week or so, and at the conference itself, which is due to start on the 27th. Natan Sharansky is coming to Harvard the day before the conference, and I’m sure he’ll have interesting insights, as usual. This could be a great historical moment, or a total disaster, or a damp squib, as previous conferences have been. I'll keep posting on it in the days to come.