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I suspect that a lot of 'experts' are going to be caught red-faced over Annapolis. Luckily for them, these experts earn a living because they write what pleases their readers and not what makes sense.

As Adel Darwish noted, Arab world columnists almost uniformly insisted that the conference was a waste of time and would never take place. They were taken by surprise by the decision of Saudi Arabia and the Arab League to attend.

Deciding to be in the same room with Israeli officials is always a traumatic event for many of these gentlemen, so there could be some credibility to these claims. A little common sense would have shown that after touting the Arab peace initiative at the last summit meeting, and given their dependence on the United States for military backing and foreign aid, and their anxieties over Iran, the Arab states really had little choice in the matter. It would have been bizarre had they not agreed to attend. Of course, in the Middle East, bizarre things can happen, but when the United States really wants something to happen, it is going to happen. Those who think otherwise are always mistaken.

The most bizarre feature of the commentary about the Annapolis conference however, was that both pro-Israel and anti-Israel extremists, and some not-so extremists, insisted that the conference is bad for their side. We have heard of "win-win" and "win-lose" models of Middle East diplomacy, but a lose-lose paradigm is a new idea. Either both sides should be gaining something or one side gains and the other side loses. Not in this case. Hamas is against the conference of course, and were shocked by the Arab League decision to attend:

While Israeli officials welcomed the Arab League's decision to endorse the US-hosted peace conference taking place next week, Hamas slammed the announcement as a 'betrayal of the Palestinian people.'

In its condemnation, Hamas said the talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority would undoubtedly favor Israeli interests and ignore Palestinian demands.

The editors of the Beirut Daily Star, who should have perhaps been more preoccupied with the disintegration of Lebanon, offered their opinion and advice, no doubt based on the example of successful Lebanese statecraft. They have even learned a bit of Yiddish.

... it will take more [than hope] to prove wrong the widespread expectation that next week's peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland, is destined to fail. All of the principal actors are political weaklings at home, and the very purposes of the gathering have been the subject of heated debate. Lawyerly dredging of the pond for new stumbling blocks, long the hallmark of Israeli diplomacy, has been under way for weeks, the latest shtick being a demand that the Palestinian side explicitly acknowledge Israel's right to be an apartheid state.

The Star named the "Israel Lobby" as the culprit and announced,

The project depends, as ever, on whether America is willing at last to demand something in return for the more than $100 billion it has lavished on Israel over the years.

While both the Daily Star and the Hamas agree that the United States is pro-Israel, the Hamas insist that the conference is bad because it will succeed, while the editors of the Daily Star are afraid it will not.

Like the Hamas, Caroline Glick is also afraid the conference will succeed, but she insists that the United States is definitely anti Israel, and she is not alone among extremist pro-Israel commentators. In an article titled "America's Folly," Glick writes:

The mood is dark in the IDF's General Staff ahead of next week's "peace" conference in Annapolis. As one senior officer directly involved in the negotiations with the Palestinians and the Americans said, "As bad as it
might look from the outside, the truth is 10 times worse. This is a nightmare. The Americans have never been so hostile."

. Could it really be so? What is an IDF officer doing expressing a political opinion? Could the Americans really and truly be more hostile now than they were in 1956, when they forced Israel to withdraw from Suez? Could they be more hostile than they were when the Ford Administration was "re-evaluating" US Middle East policy? More hostile than they were in the days of James F-- the Jews Baker? Anything is possible, but Glick doesn't present any evidence that it is so. None at all. She writes

The draft document shows that the Palestinians and the Israelis differ not only on every issue, but differ on the purpose of the document. It also shows that the US firmly backs the Palestinians against Israel.

That the Palestinians and Israelis differ can scarcely be the fault of the Americans. It is not true that they differ on every issue, and the differences are not always substantial. Palestinians want to call it a "document." Israelis want to call it a "statement." If it is a good agreement, then it helps everyone to call it a "document," while if it is a bad agreement for any party it is better for them if it is just a statement. Glick calls it a document. Does that mean she sides with the Palestinians?

Israelis and Palestinians agree on the following wording at least:

We express our determination to bring an end to bloodshed, suffering and decades of conflict between our peoples, to usher in a new era of peace based on freedom, security, justice, dignity, respect and mutual recognition, and to propagate a culture of peace and non-violence.

The Palestinians agree to the above, and the Americans are are trying to force it on Israel according to Caroline Glick. A veritable calamity! Thank you, dear Caroline for warning us about the dire dangers of peace, security and dignity. We can understand why you would be against that. There is, in brackets a suggested US draft that is unrealistic, with these three provisos:

"The Parties commit to immediate and parallel implementation of Roadmap"
...

"The US will monitor and judge the fulfillment of the commitments of both sides of the roadmap."

"Unless otherwise agreed by the parties, implementation of the future peace treaty will be subject to the implementation of the roadmap, as judged by the US."

On the face of it, no state or party could possibly accept such conditions. The first proviso turns the roadmap into a farce, since each side undertakes to implement all of its commitments even before the other side has implemented theirs. The Israelis would have to remove roadblocks for example, before the Palestinians are able to handle security. The second and third proviso makes everything dependent on the whim of the U.S. Caroline Glick will tell you that if the U.S. judges that the Palestinians fulfilled their commitments, then it doesn't matter if they are raining 155 mm Howitzer shells on Tel Aviv and exploding in Nethanya, they still get a state. The Palestinian side could make similar objections. But the catch is that there is no "or else." Israel agreed to remove illegal outposts under the roadmap, and never did so. Palestinians agreed to halt terror and never did so. The only "punishment" that each side got is that there is no peace. In any case, the wording is suggested, and doesn't necessarily favor Israel or the Palestinians. As has always been the case, this document or statement is only worth as much or as little as the intentions of the parties to fulfil its conditions.

The Washington Post provides a different assessment of the intentions of the Bush administration.

Rice said publicly this week that her goal is to wrap up a peace deal by the end of the Bush presidency. But people who have spoken to Bush in recent weeks say he has made it clear that he has no intention of trying to force a peace settlement on the parties. The president's fight against terrorism has given him a sense of kinship with Israel over its need for security, and he remains skeptical that, in the end, the Palestinians will make the compromises necessary for a peace deal.

That doesn't sound anything like the Glickerdammerung, does it? Glick flounders about for reasons why the US might want to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, such as getting a consensus over Iran or leaving a historical legacy, and can't find any. It doesn't occur to Caroline Glick why anyone might want to put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict apparently, or why it is particularly important for the US.
The simplest explanation doesn't occur to her. The US has believed that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the heart of the Middle East tangle since 1975, when Harold Saunders delivered his famous statement on this issue. The US is in trouble in Iraq, and the Iraq Study Group report stated that peace with Israel would help the image of the US. That depends on the nature of the peace of course. But a recent poll shows that a huge majority of Americans - 73% are convinced that America's support for Israel makes it more likely to be targeted by terrorists. All these are very good reasons for the Bush administration to try to at least show some progress in ending the conflict and to take risks to do it.

Annapolis may produce nothing, it may produce positive results for Israel and it may be bad. A lot depends on Israel. The best and least likely outcome is the initiation of a process that will end in peace. The worst outcome is not Palestinians shooting at us. We had that before. Palestinians are minor players, and they never liked us much anyhow. The worst outcome is if the world, and particularly the U.S. becomes convinced that Israel is not serious about peace. Everyone is sick of this conflict except the fanatics. The same poll as cited above shows good support for Israel in the United States. But it also shows that only 22% of Americans think Israel is really serious about peace. If the United States and the European Union become convinced that Israel is not serious about peace, we will have them as enemies. They will blame terrorism and expensive oil and perhaps global warming on "Israeli inflexibility." That may not be fair at all, but the world is not a fair place. They can be far more formidable enemies than the Palestinians. On the other hand, if Israel makes a sincere effort for peace, and it ends as the Gaza disengagement ended, it will be the end of the road for Palestinian extremists. The political gains of the Six Day War war were possible because a good part of the world, especially the United States, was convinced that Israel wanted peace and acted to defend legitimate security interests.

Let's face it. Even if Hamas were banished and the Palestinians had really agreed to give up terrorism, Caroline Glick and her friends would be against ceding a square millimeter of the West Bank, just as even if Israel withdrew to the borders of the 1949 armistice, the Hamas and Ahmedinejad would be unwilling to make peace. If we are lucky, peace will happen one day, as it must, despite the extremists and not because of them. But it will not happen if we are totally unwilling to compromise.

If the Arab side show themselves to be the obstacles to peace, then they will have not missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity once again, and Annapolis will be another Arab folly. If Israel is unwilling to cooperate with United States policy then Annapolis would not be "America's Folly" as Caroline Glick wrote, it would be Israel's folly. America would eventually feel itself free to abandon its support for Israel and nobody would fill the vacuum. That would be a disaster for us.

Israel must use the conference to make its security needs and national rights clear, but it also must put peace firmly among its goals and support the American initiative.

Ami Isseroff


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