Skepticism, of Course, but a Real Dose of Optimism Came Out of Annapolis
Columnist David Ignatius writes in The Washington Post (www.washingtonpost.com) on Nov. 28 that the positive fallout from the Annapolis, Md., peace summit has already begun:
"After watching President Bush earnestly deliver his benediction to the Annapolis peace conference, a caustic English friend likened the scene to one of the durbars held periodically to bolster the British Empire's rule in India. As with the long-ago gatherings of maharajahs, wrote my friend, 'so the U.S. has convened its vassals from around the world to witness — mostly in silence — a grand event, the import of which is closed to them.'
"A note of skepticism is always warranted on the topic of U.S.-Arab-Israeli peacemaking. And in the run-up to Annapolis, expectations were so low they were sinking into the Chesapeake Bay.
"But, in this case, I take the contrarian view: Something real did happen. The process that began last week may not lead to peace, but that doesn't mean that Annapolis was simply a gaudy, empty show.
"For starters, the 'Joint Understanding' document commits the parties to begin negotiations on a peace treaty 'resolving all outstanding issues, including all core issues without exception.'
"The most contentious passage was the last paragraph, which concluded that 'implementation of the future peace treaty will be subject to the implementation of the road map, as judged by the United States.' The Israelis won an important concession here, in the understanding that a treaty won't happen unless there is security on the ground, as the road map mandates. But they gave up something important, too, in specifying that America will decide whether the road map conditions are being met.
"This role of arbiter puts Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice squarely in the middle of the process as the proverbial 'honest broker.' And it gives the United States considerable leverage to prod the two sides.
"Second, it matters that all sides have agreed to 'vigorous, ongoing and continuous negotiations' through 2008. A peace process has begun, and all the powers in the region — including Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas — will have to deal with it. The radicals will try to blow it up, but if any progress is being made, that will be difficult.
"The very words 'peace process' have a narcotic effect, and that's not all bad. They are the diplomatic equivalent of creating facts on the ground. They become the focus of attention. They distract from other problems. In a Middle East that is already far too volatile, this tranquilizing aspect of the Annapolis process is useful — and shouldn't be squandered.
"Third, it's important that the Saudis, Syrians and other Arab League members were present at the conference as prospective midwives. That was Rice's goal when she began thinking about the Annapolis process — to get 'buy-in' from the Arabs at the outset so that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would have some cover. The Arab presence also gives Israelis a hint of what full Arab recognition would feel like.
"The Saudis came because they are worried about the rise of Iran and the radicals. But it would be a mistake to see Annapolis simply as a pretext for a new anti-Iranian front. 'There is a feeling that all of us are exhausted by this,' one Saudi explained. 'To have stability in the Middle East, the Palestinian issue must be resolved.'
"Sometimes, the things that matter are the ones right in front of your nose, and that's the case with Annapolis. Critics talked for months about how the conference wouldn't happen and wouldn't matter anyway. Well, it did, and it does.
"A peace process, with all its ambiguity and occasional sophistry, is under way."
Wanted: A Visionary Like Sadat, With the Courage to Embrace Peace
Writer Salim Mansur writes in the Toronto Sun (www.torontosun.com) on Nov. 24 that what is really needed for peace to take hold is a change of heart on the part of the Arab world:
"The upside about the conference at Annapolis, Md., is the low expectation of all parties for any dramatic breakthrough to bring to an end the Palestinian-Israeli dispute over land and refugees prior to establishing the Palestinian state.
"The downside is predictable. Failure on the part of the United States to meet the one-sided Palestinian demands — by leaning on Israel — without any assurance or evidence that Palestinians cease supporting terror, will be grist for terrorists, their supporters and apologists in the region.
"The plain truth about such Mideast conferences is the ganging up of the Arab states against Israel as a show of verbal force on the diplomatic front to compensate for their miserable record on wars they have precipitated with the one lonely outpost of democracy in their midst.
"For anyone with a sense of Mideast history, there is irony in the timing of the Annapolis conference.
"This month marks several anniversaries for Arabs and Jews. It was 90 years ago in November 1917 that Britain, through the Balfour declaration, committed itself to establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
"Then, 60 years ago, in November 1947, the U.N. passed the resolution on partitioning Palestine, held by Britain under the League of Nations mandate into two states: One Arab and one Jewish. Twenty years later, in November 1967, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 242 as the basis of mediating an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
"Finally, 30 years ago in November 1977, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat of Egypt visited Jerusalem, addressed the Israeli Knesset, and opened negotiations with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin resulting in the peace accord between Egypt and Israel.
"At any time during this period, the Arab states could have acknowledged the rights of Jews to a state in Palestine, accepted the U.N. resolution on partition, negotiated the details of coexistence, assisted the Palestinians with their state, and received support of the great powers, including the United States, in meeting the needs of their people and bringing prosperity to the region, given the resources available.
"But the Arab position was a resounding 'three nos' as duly spelled out after the over-reaching ambition of the Egyptian leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, and his supporters crashed in the humiliating defeat of the June 1967 war: No peace, no negotiation with and no recognition of Israel.
"The great lie repeatedly told in the Mideast, and swallowed whole or in part in the West, is that the United States' unconditional support for Israel stands in the way.
"What is implicit in this lie is the meaning of peace. For Arab and Muslim supporters of Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda and the Iranian acolytes of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, a 'just peace; requires the rollback of Israel and returning Jews to the secondary status of dhimmi (protected people), as provided by Islamic laws when Arabs were empire-builders.
"Until and unless there is a change of mind and heart among Palestinians and Arabs, in acknowledging the Jews as equal partners, then public diplomacy as arranged for Annapolis will remain an illusory exercise in which Arab states one-sidedly seek American appeasement and Israeli concessions as vindication of their rightness."