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Annapolis blues

The Bush administration's plans to convene a new round of Israeli-Arab diplomacy on Nov. 26 will, I predict, will do substantial damage to American and Israeli interests.


Mahmoud Abbas, Condoleezza Rice, and Ehud Olmert: Will they be celebrating at Annapolis?

As a rule, successful negotiations require a common aim; in management-labor talks, for example, both sides want to get back to work. When a shared premise is lacking, not only do negotiations usually fail, but they usually do more harm than good. Such is the case in the forthcoming Annapolis, Maryland, talks. One side (Israel) seeks peaceful coexistence while the other (the Arabs) seeks to eliminate its negotiating partner, as evidenced by its violent actions, its voting patterns, replies to polls, political rhetoric, media messages, school textbooks, mosque sermons, wall graffiti, and much else.

Damage will be done should the Israeli government make "painful concessions" and get a cold peace or empty promises in return, as has consistently been the case since 1979. This lop-sided outcome would, once again, boost Arab exhilaration and determination to eliminate the Jewish state.

Contrarily, should the Israelis resist a joint U.S.-Palestinian position, I see a possible crisis in U.S.-Israel relations of unprecedented proportions — worse than 1975 or even 1957. That's because, in part, the stakes are so high. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has stated that "the United States sees the establishment of a Palestinian state, a two-state solution, as absolutely essential to the future of not just Palestinians and Israelis but also to the Middle East and, indeed, to American interests." If a Palestinian state is "absolutely essential … to American interests," whoever stands in its way will presumably pay a heavy price. As I have been arguing since November 2004, U.S.-Israel relations are hanging by a thread. Annapolis renders them yet more vulnerable to disruption.

Putting aside these deep and inescapable problems, the talks face two practical challenges: On the Palestinian side, "Fatah figurehead Mahmoud Abbas" (as JWR contributor Caroline Glick calls him) is an extremely weak reed. "There is no responsible Palestinian leadership that could deliver a newspaper on time in the morning," the Jerusalem Report's Hirsh Goodman notes, "much less a peace agreement that would stand the test of time."

On the Israeli side, Ehud Olmert's prime ministry could crash if his skittish partners abandon the ruling coalition. Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu have warned against dividing Jerusalem and other steps. Ehud Barak, head of the Labor Party, reportedly will reject any plan denying freedom of movement to the Israel Defense Forces in the West Bank. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni could bolt if a Palestinian "right of return" is not renounced. That a recent poll finds 77 percent of Israelis think their government is "too weak to sign a peace agreement with the Palestinians in Israel's name" increases the chance of defections. T

These grim prospects raise the question: Why, after nearly seven years of staying aloof from Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, has the Bush administration now succumbed to the bug? Some possible factors:

Iranian threat: Rice sees an opportunity for U.S. diplomacy in a Middle East realignment resulting from Iranian aggression, both actual (Hizbullah, Hamas) and future (nuclear weapons).

Inaction worse: If nothing is done, Kadima's already dismal standing in the polls will continue to fall and Fatah's tenuous hold over in West Bank will erode. The prospect of Likud and Hamas succeeding Olmert and Abbas pleases the Bush administration no more than it does those two men.

Legacy: Zbigniew Brzezinski has articulated the foreign policy establishment's hopes for Annapolis and its dim view of Rice: "She realizes that her legacy right now is really very poor. If she can pull this off, she will be seen as a real historical figure."

Civil rights: Rice believes in a bizarre analogy between West Bank Palestinians and southern Blacks. 

Messianism: Both George W. Bush and Rice seem to view themselves as destined to resolve Arab-Israeli hostilities. One interlocutor recounts that "she believes this is the time for the Israeli and Palestinian conflict to end."

Rice's comment echoes both George H.W. Bush's 1991 statement that "the time has come to put an end to Arab-Israeli conflict" and Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon's 2005 announcement of his intent "to resolve this problem once and for all." But, as Irving Kristol has memorably observed, "Whom the gods would destroy they first tempt to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict."

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I think Bush's and Condoleeza's egos and wishes to have a place in history are key here. If they try to push ahead with this history will remeber them for the mess that is Iraq,and the outcome of this ill=timed process that is doomed from the start. The best negotiations are to seem to comply and then fob it all off.

Posted by Fiona on 2007-10-29 19:59:37 GMT

Pipes is too pessimistic. For his fears to become reality, Israel would have to unconditionally surrender to the Arabs and not even the USA would push Israel that far. Rice is reacting to the State Dept anti-Israel/Jewish agenda. Maybe someone ought to speak to Bush to clean out the ensconced pressure groups.

Posted by paul2 on 2007-10-29 13:24:04 GMT

Out-spent and out-smarted by the Islamic world, Israel will lose big time and the US will lose as well. Pipes is right on target. Insatiable Arab demands and constant aggression result in Israeli exhaustion and capitulation. U.S. beliefs, that "the U.S. can solve the Arab/Israeli conflict" shows how shallow and limited these "leaders" are. Condi, a Black American, believes the Palestinians are fighting a Civil Rights battle, not a war of extermination against Israel,and she is way off bsse. Inept, incorrect analysis by those steering our Ship of State are going to take us all down.

Posted by Roberta E. Dzubow on 2007-10-27 16:53:25 GMT

No matter who the "players" are, and no matter what the situation, common actions and re-actions can be seen. The Bible tells us that "Pride goes before destruction and arrogance before failure". With the Worlds spot light on the Middle East "problem" and with such impotent, I mean important leaders under scrutiny, the pride and arrogant factors come into deadly play. We have Mr. Bush esquire and Ms. Rice with serious pride issues, resulting from foolish statements they have made re-solving the middle East problem. Then we have Mr. Abbas a most arrogant "moderate" [NOT] Muslim,committed to the destruction of Israel, telling these leaders [so full of pride that they are blind and deaf], what they want to hear, mix all this with a corrupt inept Israeli leadership and we have a recipe for destruction and failure. Once again all I can say is thankfully YHWH is in control and not these clowns. Again I am reminded that YHWH has said "My ways are not your ways", what great news. This is a time when faith and hope are to be entrusted to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Posted by Philip Hammond on 2007-10-26 05:16:26 GMT