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Annapolis: Start of a Middle East Helsinki Process?
by Rene Wadlow
2007-12-05 09:51:59
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There was a high level of scepticism — not to say cynicism — concerning the outcome of the 27 November conference on Israel-Palestine in Annapolis. All the chief actors in this drama had different motivations and different interests to advance. If the aim of the meeting were really a settlement of the key final status issues between Israel and Palestine and the creation of a Palestinian state, a trip to Washington and a car ride to Annapolis would have been unnecessary.

The basic issues dividing Israeli and Palestinian leaders have been clear for a long time even if no progress has been made in finding a solution: the external frontiers of a Palestinian state, a shared Jerusalem, a practical resolution for the Palestinian refugees and their descendents, a release of the Israeli grip on the West Bank and the political and economic integration of the Gaza Strip. It is not clear that the administration of President Bush is in a position to do much on these issues even if it wanted to. However, the US administration is there because no one else has taken its place, not the UN, not the European Union, not Russia during the seven barren years since the US-led Camp David meeting in 2000. Thus, today, a deadline for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is set by a totally irrelevant factor: the end in 2008 of the second term of George W. Bush. While his departure is irrelevant to the issues, a deadline can be of use so that the negotiation process is not eternal as was the case after the Oslo 1993 accords. Waiting grows tiresome when there is little meaningful change in daily life and even more tiresome when living conditions grow worse as they are in Gaza.

Some, especially Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies, saw Annapolis as the start of an anti-Iran coalition. Even the more radical Khaled Meshall, Hamas’ Demascus-based political leader, has called Annapolis a camouflage for the American’s “major strategic game — war on Iran. While war with Iran is not an aim, some Arab states have the danger of a dominant Iran, what they call “the Persian threat” as a chief preoccupation. They see growing Iranian influence in Shiite-dominated Iraq, in Lebanon through Hezbollah, and in Gaza through Hamas as proof that Iran is riding the crest of a political wave.

It is Russia which has best seen “the way the wind is blowing”. Russia has proposed holding early in 2008 a follow-up Middle East Peace Conference with the aim of establishing direct Israeli-Syrian negotiations to resolve the issue of the return of the Golan Heights to Syrian control. With the close Iranian-Syrian ties any advance on Syrian security will pass through Iran. The Russians have seen clearly the need for a broader Middle East peace process — a Middle East equivalent to the Helsinki European security process. Annapolis came just a few days prior to the Russian parliamentary elections which confirmed that Vladimir Putin will play a political role well after George W. Bush has left the scene. The Road from Annapolis leads to Moscow.

René Wadlow
Gravières - France

René Wadlow is also editor of the online journal of world politics www.transnational-perspectives.org and an NGO representative to the UN, Geneva. Formerly, he was professor and Director of Research of the Graduate Institute of Development Studies, University of Geneva.

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Chris2007-12-06 19:02:17
There is obviously a lot more going on than meets the eye. I wonder if the good cause of peace between Israel and Palestine might not have provided a forum for leaders of many nations to ponder the greater concerns -- such as those you mention -- of a globalized political and economic awareness. Everyone has their fingers in everyone else's pie, while it has become impossible (in the world of multi-nationals and the real politics of national entities) for any nation to hold tight to its own pie. Money, oil, communications, technology, tribe/nation relations, etc. are all in the process of rapid change. The old paradigms are not working. I wonder if these leaders at Annapolis did not spend a fair bit of time and effort trying to conceive of new modalities, and the pathways such might entail. The meeting came right after the OPEC meeting, and during the Security Conference for mid east oil producing countries. It looks like serious reconsideration of the entire arena is at work. I just hope it works out that there is actually a way to guarantee basic freedoms, human rights, and the chance to see your kids grow up without being blown up, works out for all. I believe the elements of the American Declaration of Independence and Constitution -- if applied globally -- are a worthy example of the principles of freedom and human dignity. I believe it is appropriate that America hosted the conference.

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