ANALYSIS Talking down a non-event
CYNICISM IS hardly a scarce commodity when it comes to the Middle East peace process. Yet it is hard to remember when a summit was mooted as such a non-event as the forthcoming Annapolis conference.
It began as a US-sponsored summit — which Jerusalem has taken pains to downgrade to a mere “meeting” — for the international community, including, crucially, a spectrum of Arab states, to support Israel and the Palestinians in restarting negotiations.
Yet that now seems laughable, not least because of the fundamental weakness of the three main parties.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas is being described these days as little more than the mayor of Ramallah. Ehud Olmert, beset by corruption investigations, knows that his position is too shaky to withstand any meaningful concessions. And President Bush is in the classic lame-duck phase of a spectacularly unsuccessful presidency.
Talking to Israelis, it is near impossible to find anyone with even a low expectation of success. Most appear not to care one way or another about Annapolis; those who do assume that it is doomed. Asked for the bestcase scenario, one veteran analyst says bluntly that the meeting may “postpone the failure of the process by another month or so”. And after Annapolis? Even if the Israelis and the Palestinians manage to hammer out a reasonable joint declaration, they are far from being able to deliver it.
Former Palestinian premier Ahmed Qureia warns of a new outbreak of violence if the summit fails; Israeli intelligence counters that the Palestinians are simply too tired and weak for another intifada. But it seems the most likely consequence is further chaos, with the continuing diminution of Fatah and concurrent strengthening of Hamas.
The rejectionist counter-summit that Hamas, Islamic Jihad and others plan to convene in Damascus looks likely to result in a little more consensus — and may be a more accurate indicator of what the future holds.