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Conference a “long shot” to lead to peace between Israel and Palestine

Sunday, December 2, 2007 | 10:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:49 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Stuart Loory, who holds the Lee Hills Chair in Free-Press Studies at the MU School of Journalism, is the moderator of the weekly radio program “Global Journalist.” It airs at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays on KBIA/91.3 FM or at www.globaljournalist.org.

Loory: The odds were against success on Israeli-Palestinian differences at the one-day peace conference in Annapolis, Md. Sure, President Bush posed for a picture shaking hands with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. But the two Middle Eastern leaders are perceived as weak, and the American president is a lame duck. By the end of the day, there was a startling announcement that the two sides had agreed to reach a peace settlement by the end of next year. Given the complications involved — the rise of Hamas with its avowed policy of opposing Israel’s existence in the Palestinian territories and the settlement of a quarter of a million Israelis on the West Bank — can this agreement come to pass? The agreement is based upon implementation of the so-called road map for peace, agreed to in 2003 with a goal of a permanent peace by 2005. That deadline is behind us. We’ve had agreements and good words before after meetings in Camp David, Oslo and Madrid. There has been a lot of talk but no peace. How is the Annapolis agreement viewed in Ramallah and Jerusalem?

Sam Bahour, freelance journalist, Ramallah, Palestine: The unfortunate part of Annapolis is that Abbas is coming back to a 100 percent occupied land, just like he left. And he’s coming back without an acknowledgement from the Israeli side that the West Bank Gaza strip in East Jerusalem is an occupied territory. The leaders of Annapolis are taking great pride in executing a high stakes word processing exercise, but there is a detachment between what is being said and reality. Palestinians aren’t ready to accept any sense of progress unless they see it in their daily lives.

Loory: What about in Israel?

Gideon Lichfield, Middle East editor, The Economist, Jerusalem: The Israeli feeling is probably a lot more positive. One can look at this as the glass is half empty or half full. If the glass is half full, then the fact that they started peace talks for the first time in seven years is something.

Loory: Is the problem that Israel doesn’t acknowledge that it is occupying territory?

Bahour: Acknowledging that this area is occupied formally lays upon Israel a set of responsibilities to mitigate the occupation. The daily violence is partly due to Israel not seeing itself under the rule of law when it comes to the West Bank and Gaza strip. The loudest example of that is that Israel continues to build settlements, which are illegal under international law. It’s not enough for both the Israelis and the Palestinians to want peace. An international third party to uphold the contours of the peace agreement and give incentives to both sides is needed. The hope was that the United States would do that this time around. Instead, it’s playing the role of a neutral mediator when the U.S. is not neutral.

Loory: Will the U.S. really stay out of it?

Howard LaFranchi, foreign affairs reporter, Christian Science Monitor, Washington, D.C.: People involved in this process say that someone at a high level needs to be there pushing things along. It’s fine when the leaders are smiling and shaking hands, but the test will come when they reach a dispute. Bush said that the U.S. would remain engaged, and the joint statement refers to the U.S. as the monitor. There’s a sense that the reason this conference took place in the first place is because Bush wanted to bring the Israeli and Arab countries together to confront Iran. With the conference over, he’ll watch and perhaps jump back in if there’s a moment that’s of his interest.

Loory: Syria was a reluctant attendee at the conference. Did it gain anything while it was there?

Samir al-Taqi, director, Orient Center for International Studies, Damascus, Syria: To Syria, coming to Annapolis was seen as an excess. Syria was very much embarrassed and saw that all the problems in the region came from this agreement between Ariel Sharon and Bush to try to close the Israeli-Arab conflict without solving it. To Syrian eyes, that is what is behind the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, the buildup of the wall and asking Syria to get rid of some of its armaments. Syria was gambling that this approach, relying on the logical force by Israel and the U.S., won’t succeed. For Syria, going to Annapolis is an indication that this logic was failing in the region. Especially that the American administration’s approach to the problems of the region is severely crippled, as are the situations in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.

Loory: The first phase of the road map dealt with containment of violence. How can that be dealt with?

Bahour: Foremost is the acceptance of the road map as a document to move forward on. The Palestinians accepted it and the Israelis accepted it with several reservations that nullified their acceptance. The first question is whether Israel has removed its reservations. Secondly, the Palestinians had an obligation to take a more proactive security stance. They have done that under the eye of U.S. General Dayton, who was overseeing the rehabilitation of the Palestinian security forces. Israel is obligated to stop all settlement activity in the West Bank without exception. That’s a huge test to see if Israel will meet. Another mechanism calls on Israel to reopen Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem and to list the internal closures spread out throughout the West Bank. People are supposed to be able to travel from home to work without having to go through multiple Israeli checkpoints. These are concrete measurable items that we’ll see if the parties can enact in a short period of time.

Shmuel Rosner, chief U.S. correspondent, Haaretz newspaper, Tel Aviv, Israel: Israel and Palestine agreed upon a two-track peace process in Annapolis, which will include negotiations for final status agreements. More importantly, the two sides will try to implement the road map in a serious way. Saying that the Palestinians have already fulfilled their obligations under the road map is really overstating the situation on the ground. The Palestinian Authority did not come and say, you take Gaza, we only want the West Bank, and so we only have to dismantle the organizations in the West Bank. If one talks to Israeli sources, dismantling the organization in Gaza is part of the deal. Israel also has some tests that it needs to pass, including freezing settlement activities. That won’t be an easy task for the Israeli government, but they will have to do it if they want to fulfill their obligations.

La Franchi: What has changed is that there are two leaders who do seem to get along. They seem to have a rapport between them that both are dedicated to. This meeting was seen as a road map plus getting back to the nuts and bolts of security and easing up on Palestinian living conditions, while pursuing final status negotiations.

Loory: We certainly have a long shot coming out of Annapolis.

Producers of Global Journalist are Missouri School of Journalism graduate students Devin Benton, Yue Li, Heather Perne and Catherine Wolf.


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