The Annapolis conference was devised by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as a gathering of the pro-American forces in the Middle East following the model of the 1970s anticommunist regional gatherings. Thus, Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran are excluded from attendance. Accordingly, some argue that contrary to its portrayal of peaceful intent, the Annapolis conference is in actuality closer to a war conference.
The potential for success of the conference is contingent upon its ability to resolve key issues in the Israeli-Arab conflict. Namely, it must put an end to the Palestinian question in a substantial and agreed upon manner, and garner approval from the Arab states for the legitimacy of the continued existence of the state of Israel. However, these objectives require an end to the Israeli occupation, the establishment of a Palestinian state, and a solution to the issue of the Palestinian refugees. Consequently, in order for the Annapolis conference to be successful, it would have to challenge Israel’s aims of maintaining a Jewish majority and extending its borders by annexing the major settlement blocks in the West Bank.
The Annapolis conference could have the potential for success if it adopted the principles of the Saudi Arabia led Arab League initiative, which proposes full recognition of Israel in exchange for an Israeli retreat from all the occupied territories and a solution to problem of the Palestinian refugees. But the US administration opted to legitimatize Israel as-it-is in the region, excluding the Arab League initiative from the table and Saudi Arabia from the conference.
Instead, lying on the conference table will be the competing text of the road map.
This document, adopted by the Quartet (which includes the UN, Russia and the EU in addition to the US) is a three phase process. The first phase stipulates that Israel must freeze all construction in settlements or building of new settlements, while the Palestinian Authority is required to end all military threats against Israel. During the second phase, a Palestinian state with temporary borders will be created. In the third and final phase, the Palestinian State and Israel will negotiate a final status agreement.
In 2003, US President George W. Bush declared that the existence of the major Israeli settlement blocks must be taken into consideration when negotiating the final borders of the Palestinian State. This position was echoed at the Saban Forum by Tony Blair, the Quartet special delegate, who attacked the European position that views the Green Line (pre-1967 borders) as the only legitimate marker for setting the future borders of a Palestinian state.
Israel’s interpretation of the road map is that its implementation is conditioned on the Palestinian Authority’s capacity to “fight terror and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure.” Under this arrangement, it will be up to Israel to declare when Palestinian actions sufficiently accommodate its demands, and only then would Israel move towards dismantling isolated settlements.
While the road map stipulates that Israel be required to dismantle settlements built after May 2001, Israel is not ready even to go this far. The Israeli government has only agreed to dismantle settlements that have not been authorized by the Israel authorities. And, as we move towards the Annapolis conference, Israel is making every effort to “legalise” the existence of many of the settlement outposts still lacking authorization.
In an attempt to avoid failure at Annapolis, the Americans have implemented a strategy of recycling washed up and shallow promises in exchange for an escalation of the PA clash with Hamas. If Abu Mazen will be ready to become the Palestinian Pinochet, he will be prized with the presidency of a Palestinian state with temporary borders, a mere patina of sovereignty, and all on a territory covering 45 percent of the West Bank (12 percent of historical Palestine). If Abu Mazen rejects this meager offer, following the fate of Arafat, he will be declared a “radical” and be boycotted by Israel and the US administration.