One shouldn't compare the Annapolis Conference with any comprehensive peace conference, such as Madrid, or Palestinian-Israeli negotiation sessions, such as Camp David. The Annapolis Conference will be the first international gathering for the sake of establishing a Palestinian state on the basis of international resolutions and reference points, including the Arab Peace Initiative that was adopted at the Arab Summit in Beirut in 2002. The world will head to Annapolis to tell the Palestinians that it places their cause at the forefront, and to tell the Israelis that they must now take practical measures toward a two-state solution, based on secure borders for both Israel and Palestine. This is important, regardless of the immediate results of the so-called conference of the fall, which will not be a negotiation session, a ceremony to inaugurate a new idea, or a festival. It is a conference to release Palestine from international isolation and from the cage of rationing terrorism. It is also a conference to launch a new qualitative type of negotiations, with international participation and supervision; it is certainly not a conference to distance Syria from the peace process. Syria has been invited, to support Palestine, if it wants to support Palestine, just like the rest of the Arabs, to pave the way for a similar conference, for the sake of the occupied Golan Heights. The conference is not about acting recklessly on the Lebanese-Israeli peace track, since this is driven by UN Security Resolution 425, which is connected to the Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory, while occupied Palestinian and Syrian territory fall under Resolutions 242 and 338. International interest in Lebanon will continue no matter what happens, since the international community is committed to establishing an international court to try those involved in political assassinations in Lebanon, no matter how long this takes. Internationalizing Palestine and Lebanon has another implication, and "internationalization" can no longer be used as a derogatory term by those who are politically bankrupt.
On Friday, Lebanon will begin a new phase, which some might view as final, or as marking the end of a certain course. The anxiety and fear might blind people to the obvious facts, namely that it is impossible to erase two basic items, whose opponents - Hizbullah and its allies Syria and Iran, and their smaller partners inside Lebanon - have been desperately seeking to eliminate: the creation of an international court for those involved in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri and his comrades, and other terrorist assassinations that an investigation proves to be linked to this crime, and the implementation of Resolution 1559, which calls for the dismantling and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias, including Hizbullah and Palestinian factions that act on the orders of Damascus and other militias. Whatever any agreed-upon Lebanese president does, at the end of the day, he will be unable to eliminate these two fundamental items. Whatever delusions the Iranian-Syrian axis and Hizbullah and its brethren have, the beefed-up UNIFIL forces will not continue to function as a shield to protect them from the resistance, which threatens them from a distance - and only from Lebanon - with the permanent presence of the national army and the other militias. Whatever this axis tries to do, it might be able to hinder measures here and there, to obstruct the formation of the court, but it will certainly fail to prevent the establishment of this body, whatever it does.
Even if this alliance manages a well-thought-out coup d'etat, after creating a climate of terror, and engineers the establishment of an allied military government in Lebanon, or through measures undertaken by the (finally) departing president, Emile Lahoud, this government will not last long in the face of international pressures, which will prevent Lebanon from becoming a Syrian-Iranian base, or in the face of isolation that it will certainly bring down upon itself. Observers who are following this fear of the independent investigation committee into terrorist acts in Lebanon, acts that took the life of al-Hariri, and the other political assassinations, do not really know what this committee has arrived at, especially after its current head, Serge Brammertz, has surrounded the process with complete secrecy. Brammertz will leave this post at the end of the year and be followed by Daniel Bellemare, from Canada. He will deliver his final report to the Security Council on Tuesday. This report will not reveal what the investigation has arrived at, and will not name names. It will not present conclusions. It will not indict anyone, or clear anyone. Brammertz' exit from his post was an astonishing surprise, but not a knockout blow. If he does not end the investigation, a new commissioner will head the investigation. Meanwhile, Brammertz is headed for a new position in the UN, heading the court for the former Yugoslavia, succeeding Carla del Ponti, and will not speak out upon leaving one post for another. He sees himself as an employee and has no interest in or desire to add an outstanding item to his CV.
Therefore, Brammertz, on the one hand, has not disappointed hopes and promises, because he has not made promises to reveal what he has mid-way through the investigation, to either a certain party or to the UN Security Council. He has given absolutely no impression at any time that he will reveal names before the Security Council. Anyone believes such a thing is a prisoner of his own imagination. On the other hand, Brammertz' term might be considered a set-back for the investigation, as it appears that what he has done is return the investigation to where his predecessor, Detlev Mehlis, brought the proceedings. One could say that this was not Brammertz' business, and that he in fact politicized the investigation, while he wanted to not politicize it. This is because he ignored the importance and benefit of overt pressure on Syria and the issue of trust on the part of people in Lebanon; he believed that he was right to maintain this secrecy.
This might be the case. And it might also be the case that what is contained in the secret briefcase of Brammertz and his team might silence the critics, since he did well with the investigation and gathered evidence to present to the court, carrying out his tasks according to his concept of these tasks. Whatever the case, the final report by Brammertz will not constitute a historical event when he delivers it next Tuesday to the Security Council; he does not want to talk in terms of historical events and his legacy. He will hand over the file he has prepared with his team to the Security Council, in addition to what Mehlis and his team prepared since the investigation began a few years ago, to a new person - we will become used to hearing this name and about this personality, and he will also decide the type and pace of his investigation. This person will hand over the file to the International Court, and we will see if he considers himself charged with a historic task for a people and country, or if he will see himself, as Brammertz did, as a mere employee holding a bag and handing it over, not looking behind himself as he turns in his final report next Tuesday. On this date, it will be the day of Palestine, if events in Lebanon move in the direction of salvation, even if temporary or phases, from a tactical or strategic civil conflict. Annapolis might send a united message through a position taken vis-a-vis Lebanon, but the goal of the gathering is to focus on Palestine. All of the participating countries will do well to head to Annapolis and say to Palestine: we are thinking about you.
The Annapolis Conference will not create a miracle or record a breakthrough in the negotiations, such as fixing a firm date to create a Palestinian state. It is another beginning and not an ending to the negotiation process, and because it involves high expectations, the Annapolis Conference won't be a shock or a disappointment - it will be one of the most normal conferences, despite the importance of the event itself. It might be called the meeting of the weak, since the Palestinian and Israeli leaderships are weak and because the host of the event is President George W Bush, a lame duck president approaching the end of his second term. However, the modest expectations of the conference in themselves do not mean that it will be a pale affair. Here are some of the reasons: The marginalization of the Palestinian issue and the isolation and exclusion of the Palestinian Authority have constituted a harsh blow to the Palestinians. Thus, breaking this isolation and eliminating the marginalization have been very positive developments for their cause, and for those who believe that it is possible to establish a Palestinian state only through negotiations, since the option of armed resistance is not supported practically by states that use the rhetoric of resistance, and particularly Syria, which has borders with Israel that it refuses to open to resistance.
Bush administration's involvement as a direct party in forging a Palestinian-Israeli peace is no simple matter, whatever feelings there may be toward this administration and its team. Former US President Bill Clinton ignored the peace process for seven years, then awoke in his final year to search for his historical legacy. He undertook peacemaking in his own way and invited the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and the then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (the current defense minister). The Camp David meeting was spun by those who took part in it, and these interpretations differed from what actually took place. Barak did not offer Arafat the deal of a lifetime. The offer that Barak made to Arafat came about seven months after the talks at Taba, after it appeared that he would lose to Ariel Sharon in the Israeli elections. Even Bill Clinton himself says today that Arafat should have accepted what Barak offered him at Taba (and not at Camp David), as he considered Camp David a summit "to break the psychological ice and create a psychological breakthrough" between the two camps.
For the record, Camp David produced a breakthrough; Barak did what no Israeli leader had done before him: put Jerusalem on the negotiating table. Sharon then led an Israeli "intifada" against him and defeated him in the elections. Barak had crossed the Israeli red lines and was informed that there would be an uprising against him. Therefore, Barak feels that he burned his fingers on the Palestinian issue, and thus prefers the Syrian negotiation track to the Palestinian one. Another important aspect of Camp David was Arab leaders rejected Arafat's call to travel the path with him, hand in hand, of accepting negotiations over Jerusalem based on the Israeli offer. The Arab leaders told him, "Go ahead and we'll be right behind you," which Arafat interpreted as being told "go and commit suicide on your own."
This time, at Annapolis, the Bush administration has been insistent on a critically important issue: giving the Palestinian leadership the support of Arab and Muslim leaders enjoying important political weight, so that it can take decisions without being blamed, or committing political suicide, but rather with the confidence of enjoying Arab-Muslim-international partnership, instead of acting alone in US-Israeli meetings. The invitation letter sent by Bush listed all of the reference-points for negotiations, including Security Council Resolution 1515, which unanimously supported Bush's vision for the establishment of a Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel, and the Madrid Conference, based on Resolutions 242 and 338, the principle of land for peace, and the Arab Peace Initiative for coexistence and normalization with Israel, in return for ending the 1967 occupation of Arab territory. The invitation also mentions Resolution 194 regarding the right of return for Palestinian refugees and compensation for the "1948 Palestinians." This letter might be more important than a joint Israeli-Palestinian document, since it is the official invitation by the host of the Annapolis Conference. In his letter, the US president does not vow that he will personally inaugurate the establishment of a Palestinian state. This is because, simply put, he is unable to make such a promise. However, in talking about his desire to see an agreement regarding the establishment of such a state, through a durable Palestinian-Israel peace, before the end of his term, he is making an overt commitment to work hard on seeing his vision succeed before his successor arrives, and in practical terms is setting down a time-table for these negotiations. Bush might succeed in this.
Bush might succeed despite all of the Israeli obstacles and attempts to sabotage the process that are being carried out by US groups and organizations, to abort the president's vision. Since this vision was announced, we have seen such attempts; the mere convening of the Annapolis Conference is a testament to the fact that these attempts have failed to block the establishment of a Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution. The president might succeed because he appears to be finally convinced that victory over terror requires getting the Palestinian-Israeli conflict off the table, if he wants to neutralize the anger of Arab and Muslim peoples because of American bias, due to Washington's blind support for Israel, however much land it occupies and seizes, and however much it violates international law. He might succeed because he is finally listening, it appears, to the advice of key Arab and Muslim leaders, such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and the UAE, that extremism will defeat moderation if US policy doesn't change, and that the key to solutions for various Arab issues, including Iraq, involves finding a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli issue, which is the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Bush's personal involvement in seeing the Annapolis Conference succeed has important implications and impact. Let us say, for example, that he has done this for the sake of the Golan: it's certain that "nationalist" voices will stop accusing others of treason, as is now taking place regarding the Palestinian leadership. Damascus hopes, and in fact is begging US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to return the US Ambassador to Syria. This is the most important message delivered by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem from President al-Asad when he met with Rice. This is his right; however, he does not have the right to deride Bush and his team if they join the efforts to establish a Palestinian state and mock the importance of this development. In fact, no US president has put the establishment of a Palestinian state on the negotiation table, even though Bush has competed with his predecessors in how best to serve Israel; however, he remains the only American president to utter the words "establishment of a Palestinian state."
If Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants to engage in one-upsmanship with the Palestinian people, let him continue with his silly smile, while accusing others of betraying the cause and sabotaging the Palestinian leadership, as he promises liberation and resistance until the last Palestinian and Lebanese.
The presence of key Arab countries at the Annapolis Conference is necessary because an Arab absence as the world gathers to support the establishment of a Palestinian state will constitute a sign of disapproval. The issue of Arab-Israeli normalization cannot be subjected to desperate Israeli conditions or the traditional Arab political formulas. Many Arab states have ties with Israel. The most important commercial ties between Israel and an Arab state are not with Egypt, with which the Jewish state has a peace treaty, but with Qatar, which has no such agreement.
The Israeli government has made a procedural compromise for the Annapolis Conference, agreeing to negotiate the establishment of a Palestinian state instead of insisting, as it usually does, on the completion of security conditions for the negotiations. that in effect scuttle such movement. In return, the Americans do not want normalization between Israel and Arab states to be delayed until the end of the negotiations, as stipulated by the Arab Peace Initiative, but to move in parallel with the beginning of the negotiation process on the establishment of a Palestinian state. But this is merely a hope, and not a prior condition, especially since the form of this Palestinian state remains distant from an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.
The Arabs have much to offer to the Palestinians and the Israelis at Annapolis, and after Annapolis. The Quartet's special envoy, Tony Blair, requires tangible Arab backing to assist in the building of Palestinian national institutions. The Arab states and key Muslim countries have a special responsibility to protect the Palestinians from the grandstanding that is taking place regarding their cause, by other Arab and Muslim leaders, such as those in Syria and Iran.
The European Union countries play an economic role that should be boosted by political pressure on Israel to halt its collective punishment of the Palestinians in Gaza. According to the UN's Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, in an interview with al-Hayat, part of what the secretary general will bring to the Annapolis Conference is the idea of waking up those who dream of peace to the idea that "what happens on the ground has nothing to do with talk of optimism and peace," as long as the people of Gaza are experiencing "collective punishment because of measures by the Israeli authorities" and because of the "military coup carried out by Hamas.
The Annapolis Conference is not a miracle conference; but the mere gathering of world leaders to think about Palestine and lay the cornerstone of the establishment of a Palestinian state makes it a conference that demolishes the wall of international marginalization and isolation of the Palestinians.
This post was originally published here.