much fanfare, leaders of Middle Eastern nations met in Annapolis
this week at the invitation of the Bush Administration. The premise
was to jump-start long dormant negotiations between the Arabs and
Israel over their future relations. It featured the pomp and formality
which typifies state events. There were the customary opening speeches
filled with flowery promises that this time things will be different.
realistic look at what led the parties down the road to Annapolis
leaves one more sober about its future prospects and provides insight
into the classic conflict between rulers and the ruled.
first defect of Annapolis was that it was motivated by panic rather
than any real commitment to peace. All of its participants sense
that they are in trouble, are feeling insecure about their futures
and fear that the clock is about to strike midnight. Israel is still
in crisis from the debacle of its last Lebanon invasion. Constant
military mobilization is straining its economy, and Gaza has become
its worst nightmare. Syria senses its international isolation, the
pressure of being squeezed between Israel and the US forces occupying
Iraq, and the crippling economic effects of housing over one
million Iraqi refugees. The Palestinians are under increasing
siege by Israel while engaged in an internecine struggle of their
own. The Bush Administration is desperate for any foreign policy
achievement before the sand runs through its twelve-month hourglass.
It is not a coincidence that the announced deadline for a final
agreement is to be within
in panicking the herd is the rising power of Iran and Islamic fundamentalism.
Israel, the U.S., Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Muslim nations backing
the conference feel the shadow of Iran and growing fundamentalist
them together. Even Syria is rumored to be less than comfortable
with its decreasingly symbiotic relationship with Iran.
One can debate whether this is good or not. However, no party’s
fear of Iran can provide a solid basis for peaceful relations with
its enemies at Annapolis. It is a false premise which gives rise
to a temporary alliance at best. What will become of the warm fuzzy
feelings once Iran is no longer a threat?
The second problem is that the claimed desire for peace is being
propounded by leaders who are discredited among their own people.
Their lack of popularity stems from their chronic failures to fulfill
past promises. The conference can be seen as a fraternity of unpopular
government officials looking for their opponents to throw them a
life preserver. They are primarily concerned with their own legacies
and their abilities to hold on to power. Desperate times call for
desperate measures. Desperate politicians may commit to deals which
their citizens were not asked to approve and will never honor. The
closer Arab rulers draw toward Israel the less credibility they
have among their own people. Egypt’s Sadat signed a peace agreement
with Israel twenty-eight years ago, and paid for the treaty with
his life. Today there are virtually no exchanges between Israelis
and Egyptians, and hatred of Israel remains high among the average
The most glaring example of this problem is the divide within the
Palestinian camp itself. Hamas won a democratic election insisted
upon by the US. It was then deprived of its seat by its opponents.
Those who supported Hamas were starved politically, economically
and literally. Its leaders were subjected to targeted assassinations.
Other Hamas politicians were rounded up and imprisoned by Israel
with the complicity of the Fatah opposition. Yet, despite or perhaps
because of these acts Hamas’ popularity rose among the Palestinians
to the horror of outsiders. In the summer of 2007, Hamas would drive
Fatah out and consolidate its hold over Gaza. Many experts claim
that Hamas enjoys widespread support within
the West Bank as well. Yet, it is Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah who
have taken the Palestinian seat at the Annapolis table. Abbas and
Fatah proclaimed themselves to be the sole legitimate representatives
of the Palestinian people while tens of thousands of Hamas supporters
publicly made a mockery of the declaration.
Israeli Prime Minister Ohlmert, has seen a string of disasters
plague his administration.
His ratings are sinking like a stone. Yet, he confidently declares
that he can deliver the approval and backing of the very people
who cannot wait for his departure. How many Israelis are prepared
to have a Palestinian state next
door? How many would relinquish their occupation of Jerusalem,
the West Bank and Golan Heights? How many Israelis are ready to
embrace the potential return of millions of Palestinians who were
made refugees in the quest to establish a Jewish state in Palestine?
Will Israelis approve the demolition of the second "Great Wall"
or the abandonment of decades of settlements built on occupied land?
President Bush is the least popular of all of the leaders who scurried
to Annapolis. His lack of popularity at home is exceeded only by
his lack of popularity in the Middle East where Bush is considered
the devil incarnate. With domestic approval ratings in the low
20’s and barely a year left in office what foreign leader would
sanely place his future in Bush’s hands? Answer: A foreign leader
who is as desperate and unconcerned about the views of his own people
as Bush is.
importantly, why should we expect the respective citizens of either
side to honor a plan which they oppose, and what is the plan worth
if the only ones agreeing to it are the rulers rather than the ruled?
M. Peters [send him mail]
is a practicing attorney in Michigan.