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United States pushes for peace at Annapolis Conference

Posted By Denebola On December 19, 2007 @ 5:13 pm In Global Education | Comments Disabled

By Rebecca Goldstein

A front-page New York Times story on November 28 featured a photograph of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas shaking hands, with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the wings. Is this a breakthrough, an indication of peace in the near future?
Probably not.
The photo was from the Annapolis conference, hastily arranged and ill carried out, a one-day meeting in Maryland’s capitol on November 27. The meeting was initially touted as a serious step on the so-called “road map” to peace between Israel and Palestine. But as the conference approached, American officials lowered expectations, calling the conference the beginning of a dialogue rather than an end to a conflict.
When President George W. Bush first ran for office in 2000, he ran as primarily a domestic policy experienced president. Foreign policy, a necessity in solving the complex and seemingly insurmountable problems in the Middle East, is needed even more in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The September 11 terrorist attacks created a demand for a greater prominence of foreign policy, in the Bush administration and the American political debate; but even then, creating Middle East peace was not a priority for the Bush administration. In fact, in a May 2001 interview, former National Security Adviser Rice said that she did not believe that Israeli-Palestinian peace was a problem worth addressing.
So why here, and why now? Analysts both inside and outside Washington suspect that the reason is for President Bush’s legacy. With the end of his second term rapidly approaching, and poll numbers in the tubes, the president may be concerned over how history will remember him. It is possible that the President will turn out like Harry S. Truman, who had low poll numbers during his term and higher approval after his term, but with 68 percent disapproval of the president’s handling of the war in Iraq, this seems unlikely.
Furthermore, nearly all of the president’s domestic policy initiatives have either never been implemented or have been highly controversial. Creating peace in the Middle East would certainly be a bright spot on an otherwise disappointing resume for the president.
Rice traveled all around the Middle East to gather diplomats from a range of Middle Eastern nations to attend the conference. Syrian and Saudi Arabian diplomats were impressively present after much wrangling, but Iran was conspicuously absent. For an administration that has long viewed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a symptom of larger, regional instabilities, the fact that not all key players in the delicate Middle Eastern balance of power were present is somewhat of a failure in its own right.
But more significant problems with the conference involved its inability to accomplish anything substantive. Going in to the conference, there was no single document or plan to be discussed. No terms were agreed upon, no policies enacted. The conference was widely criticized as an elaborate photo opportunity, an expression of stagecraft rather than statecraft.
Admittedly, it would be difficult for the Israelis and the Palestinians to agree on anything at any conference. Extremist opinions on both sides’€right-wing factions in the Israeli Knesset and Hamas militants in Palestine’€are a serious obstacle for Olmert and Abbas.
But when added to international distrust of President Bush and numerous regional actors, present and absent, that have vested interests in peace negotiations and could act with violence if they disapprove, the conference readily became an effort to avoid total disaster instead of a real step towards peace.

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[1] Israeli settlements may stall peace talks: http://www.denebolaonline.net/2007/12/19/israeli-settlements-may-stall-peace-talks/

[2] Don’t sweat it, clothing for peace: http://www.denebolaonline.net/2008/03/19/dont-sweat-it-clothing-for-peace/

[3] Former rivals put heads together on foreign policy: http://www.denebolaonline.net/2008/12/17/former-rivals-put-heads-together-on-foreign-policy/

[4] Camp sows seeds for future: http://www.denebolaonline.net/2008/09/24/camp-sows-seeds-for-future/

[5] “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”: http://www.denebolaonline.net/2007/12/19/%e2%80%9cone-man%e2%80%99s-terrorist-is-another-man%e2%80%99s-freedom-fighter%e2%80%9d/

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