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Update from AIJAC

November 23, 2007
Number 11/07 #09

The Annapolis meeting on Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking is now set to go ahead next Tuesday, after  invitations were issued two days ago (A full list of invitees is here). This Update is devoted to background, predictions and analysis of various aspects of the meeting.

First up is Israeli political scientist Prof. Gerald Steinberg, who says Annapolis must be seen in its broader regional context, and not primarily in Israeli-Palestinian terms. He says its success can partly be measured in the degree to which it shores up a Middle East coalition against the aggressive axis being led by Iran. He says it cannot lead to peace in the near future, given the divisions in Palestinian society, but may help begin a process of creating the conditions for peace on the Palestinian side. For Steinberg's full discussion, CLICK HERE.

Next up, Washington Institute for Near East Policy peace process expert David Makovsky describes the complex dual track strategy the US is leading the parties into at Annapolis -  whereby the Roadmap's initial stages are to be implemented even as the final status issues are simultaneously being negotiated. He also has some suggestions about the confidence-building gestures, diplomatically and on the ground, that may help make this complex procedure successful. For his thoughtful explanation, CLICK HERE. Makovsky's Washington Institute colleague Robert Satloff had an equally insightful look at the many unanswered strategic questions and unresolved political problems the US mediators and the parties are going to have to grapple with at Annapolis and afterwards.

Finally, the British-Israel Communication and Research Centre (BICOM) has offered up some penetrating analysis of the state of play in Palestinian politics, between Fatah and Hamas, on the eve of Annapolis. It points out the implications of growing Fatah efforts to exploit Hamas' decreasing popularity in Gaza, and how Annapolis may affect this struggle, which will in turn help define the limits of the opportunities which Annapolis creates. For this essential background to the Annapolis process, CLICK HERE. Mohammed Yaghi of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy had more on Palestinian politics in the lead-up to Annapolis, here. BICOM head and former British Labour MP Lorna Fitzsimons also had some interesting comment on the criteria for successful Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking after Annapolis.

Readers may also be interested in:

  • One issue being much discussed is whether Syria will in the end attend the Annapolis meeting. Israeli General turned academic Shlomo Brom has a good paper on why Syria is being courted so hard in the lead-up to Annapolis. Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak said in an interview that Syria's presence would allow "serious talks" to follow. Finally, Institute for Counter-Terrorism senior analyst Ely Karmon has an excellent detailed discussion of Syria's strategic considerations vis-a-vis participating in a peace process with Israel.
  • In the lead up to the meeting, Israeli PM Ehud Olmert says the current status quo vis-a-vis the Palestinians endangers Israel.
  • However, Israeli negotiators also say the Palestinians are avoiding signing up to a joint declaration on final status issues at Annapolis for fear of how Hamas and the Palestinian street will react.
  • Former Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Dore Gold, argues that, given current uncertainties in Palestinian politics and society, Israel should avoid signing up to any new final status commitments which contradict Bush's assurance, in a 2004 letter to Sharon, that the new borders need not be exactly those of 1948.
  • 20 mortar shells were fired into Israel from Gaza yesterday.

ANNAPOLIS: A GUIDE FOR THE PERPLEXED 

Gerald M. Steinberg
Nov. 21, 2007

 
When President George W. Bush took office in 2001, he and his main policy makers resolved to avoid being dragged through the mud of another false Israeli-Palestinian peace production. But almost seven years later, on the eve of the Annapolis summit meeting, they appear to have reversed course.  Annapolis is being presented as the most important regional peace gathering since the 1991 Madrid conference, with invitations going to dozens of leaders in the Middle East and around the world.

 The main reasons for this change have nothing to do with the Palestinians and Israel the core of American policy lies in Iran and Iraq. To counter Teheran's rush to acquire illicit nuclear weapons, the US is attempting to construct a coalition that includes Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, and perhaps even Syria. This anti-Iranian coalition, which is central for Israeli security and regional stability, is necessary because of the failure in Iraq and the weakening of American unilateral influence in the region. And in order to forge such an unusual political structure, the Arabs (particularly the Saudis) have demanded some progress in the Israeli-Palestinian sphere. And this torturous path has led to Annapolis.
           
This is also the basis for assessing the success or failure of this effort -- if the group picture includes a Saudi prince or senior minister, as well as other Arab rulers, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice can declare success and use this framework to increase pressure on Iran, including the threat of a military strike. And if the Saudi presence is minimal, this will signify the final breath of the so-called "Saudi peace plan", first presented in 2002, and largely forgotten for five intervening years.

Of course, the statements made by Prime Minister Olmert and Palestinian leader Abbas will also be of some importance at Annapolis. The initial and entirely unrealistic expectations for an immediate end to 60 years of Palestinian terror and incitement were never realistic. There is now some cautious hope that this rejectionism, as reflected by Arafat in the July 2000 Camp David summit, can start to be changed through a vague joint statement about resuming negotiations on the core issues. Abbas and what is left of his Fatah movement are too weak (or perhaps unwilling) to lead Palestinian society to discarding the myths of refugee claims and accepting the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state, in the context of a two-state solution.
           
Furthermore, while the American invitation, as well as the rhetoric and slogans to be heard at Annapolis, emphasize the endorsement of a Palestinian state, the reality on the ground demonstrates that this is also not realistic now. Hamas controls Gaza, and if the Israeli military were to leave the West Bank, the corrupt Fatah movement would have trouble holding on to anything outside Ramallah and perhaps Bethlehem. And media hype to the contrary, the events at Annapolis, including another release of terror suspects by Israel will not boost Abbas or Fatah. This power struggle will decided internally, and may require a federation with Jordan (whose leaders realize the dangers of a Hamas controlled region on their borders.) 

 Finally, it is worth noting the very low profile of Europe and Russia at Annapolis. Both of these would-be world powers talk incessantly about peace, and Tony Blair is promoting economic assistance that might eventually have some impact if the Palestinians, but this a minor factor. (Europe‚s counterproductive role is highlighted through its funding for the radical NGOs that promote conflict through demonization of Israel, and the failure of the 25 countries to stand up to incitement in the UN and elsewhere. And in Russia, Putin is reviving the glorious triumphs of the Cold War.)  Despite the widespread criticism of the Americans, and the Bush administration in particular, there is no one else on the world stage.  If Annapolis succeeds, they will deserve the credit, and if it fails we will again quote Abba Eban on how the Arabs (including the Saudi rulers) never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
          
Prof. Gerald M. Steinberg is chair of the Political Studies Department at Bar Ilan University and heads NGO Monitor.



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Confidence Building after Annapolis

By David Makovsky

November 20, 2007, PolicyWatch #1309

In recent weeks, the United States has reduced expectations that the upcoming Annapolis peace conference will culminate in a diplomatic breakthrough for all parties after almost seven years of terror, violence, and non-engagement. Instead, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice seeks to revive the moribund 2003 Roadmap, and introduce a new dual-track approach. She wants the parties to implement the first phase of the Roadmap, which deals with modifying the behavior of both sides, while simultaneously -- rather than sequentially according to the 2003 plan -- negotiate the third phase, which deals with the final status issues such as Jerusalem, refugees, borders, and security.

Generating Momentum for Annapolis

Rice's diplomatic mission since the start of the year has been devoted to the third phase, known as a "political horizon," as a means of defining the end of the conflict. When Rice realized in the last month that the parties could not agree on the conceptual tradeoffs necessary to reach any finality, she shifted gears to the dual-track approach.

The main hope for Rice is to generate enough momentum to leverage the one element that has not existed since the start of the peace process in 1991: a belief that the other side is genuine. Although there has never been more skepticism among Israelis and Palestinians about the capacity of their leaders -- Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas -- there has never been more optimism between leaders about each other's genuine motivation to seek peace. This is something that never existed between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat.

Constructing a Post-Conference Strategy

Rice needs to devise a strategy to maximize that relationship towards a favorable end. Capacity can be enhanced by outside assistance, but third parties cannot manufacture a sense of mutual trust. Therefore, a sturdy post-Annapolis structure is needed to enhance the leaders' trust in each other, while also building confidence between Israeli and Palestinian publics.

Rice's idea of reconfiguring the first phase of the 2003 Roadmap emerged from a critique of the past. Previous negotiations were viewed as too divorced from what was actually happening on the ground, whether it was the Palestinian failure to combat terrorism or the continued Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank. Instead of building confidence between the parties, the Roadmap's first phase was viewed as an instrument to launch mutual recriminations, not build mutual confidence. Therefore, Rice should confer with Olmert and Abbas and ask them about the challenges of the first phase: if they are overwhelming, implementation will not be realistic; if the commitments are too few, they will not be viewed publicly as credible. Finding a balance is required. Wherever possible, creative solutions should be sought to avoid zero-sum situations. For example, the issue of roadblocks needs to be addressed differently from the past. The focus used to be on reducing the number of roadblocks, but should have been on expediting the movement at those roadblocks. Therefore, Israel should consider ways to place more Israeli soldiers at roadblocks, thereby removing bottlenecks for Palestinians without harming Israeli security.

To monitor the commitments from both sides, the Bush administration reportedly is planning to appoint a U.S. security official to observe and publicly announce violations -- thus making any failure have considerable consequences.

Domestic Implications for Olmert and Abbas

Focus on the first phase of the Roadmap could put pressure on the Olmert coalition. Two parties -- Yisrael Beitenu and Shas -- have been worried that Olmert will be too conciliatory at Annapolis, and together they can deprive Olmert of his governing majority. After the conference, the two may be concerned that Israel will have to make too many concessions on settlement activity, while less may be expected of Palestinian security forces that are only located in two Palestinian cities. The new focus could also impact Olmert's relationship with his defense minister, Ehud Barak. Before Olmert became prime minister, the "two Ehuds" had good relations and shared comparable pragmatic views. Their relationship, however, has changed recently. Since both are vying to lead the center of Israeli politics, and since Olmert's popularity has gone up sharply to around 40 percent largely in the wake of Israel's recent strike on Syria, there is speculation that Barak may leave the Olmert government to position himself for the next election. But since Barak is the head of a party that views peace as its signature policy, he is politically constrained from leaving a government engaged in a peace process.

For the Palestinians, an international effort to boost the Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayad is currently underway. Special envoy Tony Blair announced several economic projects this week, while an international donor conference will follow in December. Crucial support, however, is still missing from the Arab Gulf states, which have provided scant economic support to the Palestinians despite the dramatic increase in oil revenues since 2003. Such support would be key in helping Abbas and Fayad maintain their momentum. A recent poll conducted by the Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre echoed other polls in its claim that 43 percent of Palestinians believe Fayad's government has performed better than the Hamas government, while 25 percent think the opposite. Moreover, a quarter million Palestinians held a recent demonstration in Gaza that Hamas interpreted as hostile. Taken together, Hamas has lost considerable popularity and is unable to break the restrictions of the international community. The first phase of the Roadmap could threaten Hamas since Palestinian security forces are expected to take steps against the group in the West Bank. If Hamas continues to lose public support, it may permit a stepped-up Qassam rocket campaign, thereby provoking an Israeli incursion into Gaza after the conference and portraying Abbas and Fayad as indifferent.

Conclusion

The Annapolis launch of a "Roadmap Plus" strategy is likely to put domestic pressure on both Israelis and Palestinians as each side undertakes more obligations. As the parties take on this greater burden, Arab states need to reinforce the progress. For example, when Israel negotiates on core issues, the Arab states must also negotiate with Israel over normalization of relations, as suggested by the third phase of the roadmap. Also, Arab economic assistance to the Palestinians could buffer Abbas and Fayad against any Hamas countermeasures. "Roadmap Plus" obligations should not fall just on Israel; after Annapolis, Arab states could be crucial in protecting both parties from potential backlash.

David Makovsky is a senior fellow and director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at The Washington Institute.


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The internal Palestinian situation in the build-up to Annapolis

BICOM Notes
21/11/2007


On Thursday, 15 November, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas issued his strongest condemnation of his Hamas rivals since the Palestinian Islamists carried out their coup in the Gaza Strip in June of this year.  For the first time, Abbas called openly for the overthrow of the rival authority established by Hamas in Gaza since June.1 While Abbas stopped short of calling for an armed uprising against Hamas, his language clearly reflected the severe deterioration which has taken place in relations between Hamas and Fatah since the June events, and which has been exacerbated in recent weeks by the killing of eight pro-Fatah demonstrators and the wounding of 80 more after Hamas security officers fired into a 200,000 strong Fatah demonstration in Gaza on 11 November.2 This paper will observe the latest developments in the internal Palestinian situation in the build up to the Annapolis meeting, and assess the interplay between larger regional developments and internal Palestinian politics as a key aspect of the attempt to revive the diplomatic process.

Fatah v. Hamas: latest developments

The events of last week indicate that two related processes are currently taking place in the Gaza Strip: firstly, there is a general sense that the Hamas rulers of Gaza are vulnerable because of their inability to maintain basic living standards in Gaza.  Secondly, elements within Fatah are trying to mobilise to regain political advantage from this situation.

Since the closure of Gaza's borders following the June coup, tens of thousands of residents of Gaza have lost their jobs, factories have closed, and exports and most imports are now frozen.  Roughly 75% of Gazans now live in poverty, according to Palestinian officials in the West Bank.3 Smuggling through the extensive tunnel system between Gaza and Sinai is endemic, with weapons and foodstuffs passing through, taxed by Hamas security officials.4 Alongside this dismal situation, Hamas is expending its energies on preparing for what it regards as a near certain future Israeli military operation to bring down its rule in Gaza. The movement is investing in the development of longer range Qassam rockets, hoping to develop a rocket with a range of 20-25 kms.  This would bring Israeli towns such as Ashkelon and Ofakim within range.5 Through smuggling cash and revenues gained from taxes on smuggled goods, Hamas is able to pay the salaries of its own employees and loyalists - ensuring their obedience but heightening grievances among Gazans not connected to the movement.

There is a wider sense in which Hamas' project in Gaza is seen as foundering.  Having taken power with proclamations that support from Arab backers and from Iran would underwrite the building of a flourishing, uncompromising version of Palestinian self-rule, Hamas is now presiding over a reality of poverty, blockade, the frenzied gathering of weapons and a sense of approaching crisis.

The result of all this is that the popularity of the movement has significantly declined within Gaza. While polling data within the Palestinian territories is notoriously unreliable, it is at least worth noting that one West Bank agency places current support for the movement in Gaza and the West Bank at around 20%.6 In addition to this situation, the Israeli security establishment considers that Hamas is currently undergoing serious internal rifts - with former PA foreign minister Mahmoud al-Zahar identified with an element in the movement seeking further confrontation, and Ismail Haniyeh associated with a more ‘pragmatic' approach.

This situation is leading to claims by some Fatah officials that Hamas control of Gaza is vulnerable.7 Last week's demonstration and the subsequent comments by Chairman Abbas form part of a larger attempt by Fatah to tap into popular anger.

At least for the moment, however, Hamas rule in Gaza, and the movement's larger fortunes are probably not particularly vulnerable.  In the first place, the movement has by no means exhausted its coercive capabilities.  The Hamas authorities in Gaza are currently looking into placing general restrictions on public gatherings in Gaza, and are introducing further restrictions on media activity in Gaza.  The Interior Ministry has issued a statement permitting only those with accreditation from the ministry to work as journalists in Gaza (and gaining this accreditation requires submitting to rules preventing stories which could cause ‘harm to national unity', or which are not in line with ‘national responsibilities' as defined by the Ministry.)8 The events of last week, and of the June coup, indicate that Hamas would not hesitate to kill other Palestinians if it deems this necessary.  And Israeli forces who have recently operated in the Gaza Strip have noted that the control of Gaza, along with the possibility of sending selected cadres to train in Iran, has led to a significant improvement in Hamas' military capabilities.

The second reason why the Hamas enclave of Gaza is probably in no immediate danger is because Fatah itself remains in utter disarray.  Some observers consider that on the West Bank, its supposed heartland, the movement no longer exists as a single functioning entity. Instead, it consists of a host of rival fiefdoms, all concerned mainly with their own parochial material interests.  No real process of reform has taken place in light of the election defeat of January 2006, and the coup of June 2007.9 It is generally accepted that were it not for Israeli security forces activity in the West Bank, Hamas could paralyse large parts of the area at will.  At the same time, because of the Israeli presence and because of its unsuccessful rule of Gaza, a Hamas showdown with Fatah in the West Bank is not currently feasible.

Thus, Palestinian internal politics in the approach to Annapolis is characterised by an effective stalemate between two dominant political movements - both of which face serious crises.

The significance of the attempt to revive the peace process for internal Palestinian politics

The current US-sponsored attempt to revive the peace process cannot be seen in separation from internal Palestinian politics, or from wider regional developments.  The crisis of Fatah is part of a larger crisis being faced by secular nationalist movements and governments throughout the region.  Some observers have spoken of the ‘Islamisation' of the politics of the Arab world, as Islamist movements emerge in country after country, capable of galvanising popular support and challenging the economically and socially unsuccessful Arab regimes of both nationalist and monarchical variety.  The uniform advance of Islamist politics should not be exaggerated.  In some parts of the Arabic-speaking world traditionally associated with more moderate politics - such as Morocco - the Islamists have suffered recent setbacks.  But in the Levant and the Gulf, the trend is inescapable.  Hamas among the Palestinians, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan, Hezbollah among the Shia in Lebanon, rival Sunni and Shia Islamist groups in Iraq, opposition movements in Saudi Arabia and the small Gulf emirates - all are in their various ways raising the banner of political Islam in challenge to the Arab state system and the dominant political order of the region.

The revived diplomatic process between Israelis and Palestinians, of which the Annapolis meeting is meant to form the start, is part of an attempt to strengthen the position of the deeply troubled secular nationalist camp among the Palestinians.  Many analysts have contrasted the upbeat tones as the meeting approaches, with the great difficulties that will be involved in implementing any real progress toward conflict resolution.  It is important to understand that the revived diplomatic process is intended to aid that secular, nationalist Palestinian political element with which an agreement is considered feasible.  The possibility of this element being eclipsed by Islamist forces which reject in principle the very possibility of rapprochement with Israel is not an imaginary one.10 It has been noted that beyond Hamas, yet more extreme forces wait in the wings to try and take advantage of any breakdown and renewal of open conflict.  This knowledge - and the larger regional battle between the forces of secularism and moderation and the advocates of radical Islam - form both the backdrop and a key motivating force behind the revived Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process.