If we didn’t know better, the conference for Israeli-Palestinian peace being held yesterday in Annapolis would seem long overdue.
Hosted by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the conference includes delegates from major Arab countries, such as Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. It was supposed to deal with all of the major issues governing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: borders, Jerusalem, refugees, water and security and provide a document that can serve as a basis for ultimate resolution of the conflict.
At first glance, this looks like a dream come true.
After years of seemingly endless and senseless violence, the leaders of the major regional powers are getting together and talking about actual issues. Truly, any discussion by the parties can only be counted as a victory, and willingness to talk can be interpreted as accepting the legitimacy of the other position. The value of dialogue for dialogue’s sake cannot be overemphasized.
Yes, if we didn’t know better, this conference would look like a brave and historic attempt at forging a lasting settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.
The conference follows the precedent set by other brave and historic American peace initiatives. The Camp David Summit under President Carter, for instance, led to a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt in 1979.
Others, such as the Camp David talks in 2000, led only to brave and historic rejection and failure.
Having been down this road before, unfortunately, we do know better.
So many similar summits have gone nowhere throughout the past several years of struggle that they are beginning to look like a-dime-a-dozen. Who now remembers the Red Sea Summit in June 2003, or the bravery in the meeting at Petra in June 2006 between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas? To the most cynical, yesterday’s conference seems like a sad attempt at a last hurrah by the Bush administration as it limps out of office with its less-than-ideal approval ratings. These same last minute efforts happen every few years and always tend to come close to elections.
While Israel and some of its Arab partners at the conference want peace, the present parties are not the only players. The true impotence of the project can be seen in the staggering absence of representatives from the chief antagonists, Hamas and Iran, both of whom have called for a boycott of the conference. The old maxim “you make peace with enemies” seems to be belied here.
Mahmoud Abbas, the embattled head of the Palestinian Authority, just does not have the authority over his own people that he needs to deliver on his promises. In 1979, Anwar Sadat of Egypt could make a simple phone call and stop the shelling of Israeli troops. Abbas doesn’t have that luxury. Additionally, the fact that Palestinian leaders have so far shown no intention to recognize the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state is not at all inspiring.
The Annapolis Mideast Conference had the opportunity to be an opportunity, but it sadly looks like it was missed long before it even convened.
If those with the power to end the violence are brought into the negotiations — and forced to make concessions for the sake of peace — it is possible that Rice’s initiative will make a true place for itself in the annals of the Mideast peace process.
If not, however, it seems destined to bravely and historically crash and burn.
Yedidya Schwartz is a freshman in Branford College. He is a member of the Yale Friends of Israel.