False hopes in Annapolis

To a White House hungry for a diplomatic victory, the peace conference held Nov. 27 at the Naval War College in Annapolis Md., offers a few glimpses of hope and some PR medicine for the embattled Bush Administration. For all the fanfare and prestige of the administration’s new peace initiative, the conference is unlikely to resolve decades of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

To a White House hungry for a diplomatic victory, the peace conference held Nov. 27 at the Naval War College in Annapolis Md., offers a few glimpses of hope and some PR medicine for the embattled Bush Administration. For all the fanfare and prestige of the administration’s new peace initiative, the conference is unlikely to resolve decades of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Despite some tentative optimism, most policy-savvy analysts will tell you that the conflict’s geopolitical obstacles are too large, and the chance of compromise on both sides is too small for any permanent solution.
Political observers question whether or not the politically embattled Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert can implement any compromise agreement. With the Gaza Strip and West Bank divided into two distinct political entities, even Palestinian National Authority (PNA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas admits that he doesn’t represent all Palestinians. It’s also unclear if American support for these peace talks will survive into the next presidency with barely 13 months left in the Bush administration.
On the Palestinian side of negotiations, the viability of implementing any peace agreement is complicated by geography. In 2007, a civil war broke out between the largely secular American-backed Fatah movement, founded by Yasser Arafat, and the Islamist party Hamas. Hamas seized control of the Gaza strip, the densely-populated coastal region which is home to over 1.5 million Palestinians, while Fatah retained the West Bank.
Separated by a swathe of Israeli territory, the two have become defacto mini-states, with separate governments and security forces. Although Mahmoud Abbas, who is a member of Fatah, participated in the conference, Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization by the American State Department and was simply not invited. That leaves one and a half million Palestinians, over a third of the total population living in the two territories, with no voice in the peace talks.
This is not to say that positive developments didn’t occur in Annapolis. Amongst the more promising signs was the attendance of over 40 state delegations, including representatives from both Syria and Saudi Arabia, whose participation was far from guaranteed. A joint declaration by Abbas and Olmert, which many thought was untenable, was also issued at the opening of the conference. A day after the talks, an upbeat Abbas told journalists, “we have got on track,” while an Olmert staffer said “we laid the cornerstone for peace in Annapolis.”
However, going all the way back to the 1977 Camp David Accords which ushered in peace between Egypt and Israel. The Israeli public has only supported compromise when represented by strong leaders. Menachem Begin, for example, had participated in fruitful negotiations with Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat and had a long history as an Israeli nationalist stemming from his leadership of the Irgun militia during the 1947 War of Independence.
Ariel Sharon, who as Prime Minister ordered Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza strip, had earned his reputation as a war hero in the 1967 Six-Day War. Ehud Olmert, who lost the 2006 war in Lebanon, has no such credentials and an approval rating of around 23 per cent.
Although United States President George W. Bush pledges his unyielding support to the talks; his late-term push smacks of déj

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