Annapolis: how to avoid failure

Mariano Aguirre Mark Taylor
12 November 2007

The conference sponsored by the United States government in Annapolis, Maryland, scheduled for the last week of November 2007 has little chance of brokering a meaningful agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that will facilitate progress on the ground. Some kind of agreement may in fact be announced - all three leaders need one, and indeed later talks are already planned (with rumours of a follow-up meeting in Moscow in early 2008); but the likely practical outcome flows from the political context of the gathering and current conditions in the Palestinian territories.

The meeting is an attempt by Washington to gain support among Arab governments for its policies towards Iraq and Iran. The Israeli government will not concede on Jerusalem, the refugee right-of-return issue, or the dismantling of West Bank settlements; neither is it willing to halt construction of the separation barrier or wall that crosses the West Bank and divides many Palestinians from their families, farmlands and work. There are no signs that the current situation of persecution suffered by the population at checkpoints, movement controls and military harassment will be lifted. On the other hand, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, cannot guarantee an end to attacks from Gaza or of suicide-bombers, nor the return of the Israeli soldier kidnapped in June 2006.

The United States secretary of state Condoleezza Rice expressed concern to a congressional hearing on 24 October 2007 that "without a serious political prospect for the Palestinians (of a two-state solution), we will lose the window (and) you will see the further radicalisation of Palestinian politics, of politics in the region". But nobody believes that Annapolis will succeed in laying the groundwork for a Palestinian state. The Israeli government will avoid substantive commitments and most Palestinians have no interest in the conference.The Palestinian Authority demands a deadline to draw up final borders and is willing to make concessions to achieve this. But the most Israel will offer (echoing the "roadmap" document of June 2003) is "a process, leading to (the) establishment of an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders". Egypt (whose leader Hosni Mubarak met with his counterparts from Iraq, Sudan, and Yemen on 11 November for discussions on Annapolis and other topics) and Jordan are clear that a conference only makes sense if it results in measures that guarantee real advance.

Mariano Aguirre coordinates peace, security and human-rights matters at the Fundacion para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Dialogo Exterior (Fride), in Madrid

Mark Taylor
is deputy managing director at Fafo, in Oslo

Among Mariano Aguirre's articles on openDemocracy:

"America underneath New York" (18 November 2004)

"The Hurricane and the Empire" (5 September 2005)

"Haiti: living on the edge" (24 February 2006)

"Spain's 11-M and the right's revenge" (10 March 2006)

"Bush's security strategy: defend the nation, change the world" (31 March 2006)

"Bolivia: the challenges to state reform" (15 September 2006) - with Isabel Moreno

"Power and paradox in the United Nations" (7 November 2006)

"Mercenaries in a new age of war" (16 October 2007)Among international analysts there is widespread scepticism. If no progress is made soon on a two-state solution, the outlook for Israel and Palestine could be bleak in the extreme: civil war among Palestinians and an "existential war" with Israel, as both sides abandon even the pretence of a negotiated solution (see Daniel Seidemann, "Annapolis and the ‘Jerusalem paradigm'", 30 October 2007).

A Washington warning

The situation is very serious. What remains of Palestine is doubly divided. First, there is the growing rift between the Gaza strip (isolated and controlled by Hamas) and the West Bank (under the control of a weak Mahmoud Abbas government). Second, Israel's combined occupation and fragmentation of the West Bank - enforced and institutionalised by the separation wall, building of roads for exclusive use by Israelis, and 500 checkpoints - has converted Palestine into an archipelago of ungovernable islands.

The maps and reports published by the UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs for occupied Palestinian territory (Unocha/OPT), and the recent World Bank report published in September 2007, make clear the impact of all of this for the development of Palestinian economy: that Palestinians have been plunged into poverty because they cannot produce; if they manage to produce anything, they cannot sell it; and if they sell it, Israel keeps the money in taxes.

The Israeli posture is designed to ensure dominance by isolating Palestinians, intimidating them, and keeping them under constant pressure. When this system fails, and a suicide-bomber manages to get through all the controls, or when missiles launched from the Gaza strip fall on Israeli towns such as Sderot, reprisals are quick to follow. In short, the result of Israeli policies is a form of apartheid backed by constant violence. It is no surprise that many Palestinians decide to emigrate.

A group of former top Republican and Democrat policy-makers in the United States representing three organisations - the US/Middle East Project, the International Crisis Group and the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program have published a dramatic open letter warning that "failure risks devastating consequences" (see New York Review of Books, 8 November 2007). The signatories (who include former national-security advisors Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft) outline in detail the three conditions necessary to make Annapolis work:

* Two states, based on the lines of 4 June 1967
* Jerusalem as home to two capitals, with special arrangements for the Old City
* A solution to the refugee problem that is consistent with the two-state solution, and addresses the Palestinian refugees' deep sense of injustice
* Security mechanisms that address Israeli concerns while respecting Palestinian sovereignty
* A freeze on Israeli settlement construction
* Constructive engagement with Syria and Hamas

Also in openDemocracy on Europe, Israel and the Palestinians:

David Mepham, "Hamas and political reform in the middle east" (1 February 2006)

Richard Youngs, "The European Union and Palestine: a new engagement" (28 March 2007)

Mient Jan Faber & Mary Kaldor, "Palestine's human insecurity: a Gaza report" (20 May 2007)

Pierre Schori, "Europe and the Arab world: divided souls" (30 May 2007)

Daniel Seidemann, "Annapolis and the ‘Jerusalem paradigm'" (30 October 2007)

A European role

There are implicit messages for Israel and Washington in this letter. On the one hand, despite the separation wall and checkpoints, Israel will never live in peace if it does not offer a way out to the Palestinians. On the other hand, there are serious fractures in the United States (represented by the letter's signatories) regarding unconditional support for Israel. The book The Israeli Lobby and U.S Foreign Policy by the well-known authors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt is one example: Israeli intransigence is being questioned and it is not to the United States's advantage to be subject to Israel's policy. These criticisms form part of the perception that Washington's middle-east policy has failed.

Meanwhile, what about Europe? After the 2006 elections, the European Union supported the increasing isolation of Hamas, and in this sense it has played a negative role. On the one hand it provides humanitarian aid and, on the other, it pays for what Israel destroys. By isolating Hamas it collaborated in dividing the Palestinians. Its role should be one of promoting reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, including the release of prisoners, in particular Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti.

There is much the European Union should do, but until now European leaders have been content to follow the US lead. At a minimum, Europe should back its financial assistance with political and diplomatic efforts in support of independent civil society, United Nations resolutions, and a campaign to freeze settlement construction (see Richard Youngs, "The European Union and Palestine: a new engagement", 28 March 2007). There is an urgent need for that kind of action in the next twelve months, both at Annapolis itself and beyond.

This article was translated from Spanish by Fionnuala Ni Eigeartaigh

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