The Middle East Peace Conference Reviewed
The latest Middle East Peace Conference was held at the US Naval Academy at Annapolis in the United States on November 27, 2007. Supported by the 'Quartet' comprising the United Nations, the United States, The European Union and Russia this Conference was organized with the aim of working towards a peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which has been going on for nearly sixty years and so far has defied any solution.
The Middle East peace negotiations had stood stalled for the last seven years and this latest initiative therefore has been seen as a welcome step if for nothing else than it would get the Israelis and the Palestinians engaged in a serious dialogue again. To lend international weight to this Peace Conference the United States managed to get together at Annapolis more than forty countries together including some international organizations.
Saudi Arabia and Syria as the two prominent Arab countries which have so far not recognized Israel and were the doubtful attendees finally showed up at the Conference.
Iran emerging as a major force in the Middle East was not invited to attend the Peace Conference.
It is a strange coincidence that the United States focus and attention on Middle East peace processes gets riveted only in the last year of each Presidency. It happened during the Clinton Administration and it is now repeated again in the Bush Administration. I think that this phenomenon robs such initiatives of the intended success and results.
The major outcome of the Peace Conference at Annapolis was that both Israel and Palestinian Authority would commence talks to come up with a negotiated settlement by December 2008 envisaging the emergence of an independent Palestine State in peaceful existence with the State of Israel.
Annapolis Conference therefore did not come up with any dramatic breakthroughs signaling the advent of a new era of peace in the Middle East. Serious obstacles exist and will plague the process of the negotiations right till end-2008. Noticeably therefore was the absence of any media or official hype. Also was absent any notes of cautious optimism.
Reviewing the event the initial and major contradictions that emerge are that neither in Israel and nor in Palestine and Gaza is there a united yearning and resolve for peace. In Israel there are serious fears and rightfully too that the Israel Government succumbing to United States pressure might give in to serious fateful compromises affecting Israeli national security. Fears also exist within the Israeli Government that if it is seen as caving in to such compromises the Government itself might fall.
In the Palestinian camp the obstacles are more acute as the Hamas which enjoys sizeable support especially in Gaza is seriously opposed to any peace initiatives sponsored by the United States. In this it has widespread support from even the Government supporters.
Reviewing the Peace Conference in the wider context of the overall security situation in the Middle East the present time seems inopportune to initiate the process when the United States is embroiled in Iraq and is an adversarial confrontation with Iran.
The United States stock in the Middle East is at an all time low and so also in the Moslem world and this would hardly inspire confidence.
Iran has deliberately been left out of the Peace Conference oblivious to the fact that Iran enjoys tremendous leverages over the Hamas in Palestine and on the Hezbollah in Lebanon with both entities in a state of armed conflict with Israel
However much the United States and Saudi Arabia resent Iran , the stark reality for both these nations is that Iran cannot be ignored in the strategic calculus of the Middle East peace process and needs to be incorporated.
Lastly, in this whole issue what is at stake is that it is Israel which will be called upon to make the maximum compromises both territorially and politically and no Government in Israel can survive when it is perceived as surrendering to the United States just to appease the Arabs by conceding East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestine States or giving up the Golan Heights to Syria. These are highly emotive issues within Israel.
So while the United States may have chosen Annapolis for its highly symbolic value where peace was achieved between the American Revolutionaries and the British in 1794 it may not turn out the same in terms of the Middle East.
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Dr. Subhash Kapila
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