Success or failure are not really terms one should apply to Annapolis since well before the event it was decided that this was not to be a “peace conference,” that is, a meeting in which negotiations were to take place in order to achieve some kind of agreement. Since no “action” was to take place, there is no reason to try to determine if it succeeded or failed. That kind of judgment can come only with regard to what happens next and in the future, since what Annapolis was designed to do was to “restart,” “jump start,” “unblock” (or any other expression used by the participants) the peace process halted by the “no partner” despair and bloodshed of the post Camp David period. Only the next months will determine whether Annapolis succeeded or failed in doing that.
Before Annapolis and after there was and is still much scepticism in both the Palestinian and Israeli publics. Palestinians are not pleased that the joint “understanding” pounded out primarily by the US did not include a reference to the Arab Peace Initiative (even though all the speeches did so), and that President Bush spoke of Israel as a Jewish state and put little emphasis on the importance of borders (i.e. the territorial question). Israeli scepticism is expressed more in the almost total indifference of the Israeli public to the whole event. That is to say, Israelis in general had so many doubts about the meeting’s usefulness that they were little concerned about what was or was not said.
Yet there were some positive elements among the pronouncements at the meeting, though these had already been revealed (or leaked) in the lead-up to the conference. The first of these was the declaration of a time period, that is, a target date (end of 2008) that may be seen as a deadline for the negotiations and the achievement of a final settlement. This is not the detailed timetable the Palestinians sought, and the reference is only to the sides’ making every effort to reach this target date, but it would appear to be a compromise designed to prevent seemingly endless talks. This, of course, corresponds with Bush’s remaining time in office – a time constraint already pointed out before the conference. The second positive element was the introduction of monitoring into the process.
The texts of the proceedings indicate that there is to be Israeli, Palestinian and US monitoring of the negotiating process and US monitoring of the implementation of the Road Map. Subsequent statements and the appointment of General James L. Jones as special envoy for Middle East Security make it less clear as to just by whom, when, and most importantly, how, the monitoring is to take place. Nonetheless monitoring is a crucial element that was missing from many of the previous attempts at peace-making; if indeed it is applied seriously and authoritatively it could in fact make the difference between success and failure. Monitoring – with some authority to pressure for implementation – could, for example, prevent the building of further Israeli settlements, possibly stop Israeli plans retroactively to authorise most of the outposts, and even lead to the dismantling of the outposts. Thus, it might detach Israel from its customary view of the Road Map’s obligations as sequential rather than parallel, that is, Israel’s past insistence that no progress can be made until the Palestinians destroy the infrastructure of terrorism (in Gaza as well as the West Bank).
Finally, the pronouncements and schedule suggest that stage three of the Road Map, negotiations on the final status (core) issues, is being telescoped into the first, current stage, ignoring the second stage altogether – as the Palestinians prefer. Nowhere is this stated explicitly, yet it is the only way to explain the contradiction between the beginning of the talks on the final status (December 12) and the demand to implement the Road Map. Ultimately, it appears, Israel’s understanding of this contradiction is that there will be no implementation of whatever agreement is reached in the negotiations until the goals lined out in the Road Map have been accomplished – another contradiction, but one obviously meant to make the end of the occupation and the creation of a Palestinian state conditional on a complete cessation of Palestinian violence (or perhaps even any chance of such violence).
Finally, a new, probably unexpected and unintended but potential outcome of the conference may result from the participation of the Arab countries and the Arab League. This participation gave an enormous boost to the position of the United States in the Middle East – as had been intended by Washington. However, in accommodating the United States with their attendance (though it was motivated by their own concerns over the growing strength of Iran and of radicalism in their own countries), the Arab leaders have made the US both indebted to them and have raised their stake in the successful outcome of the process they helped to launch. Combined, these two factors could lead them to pressure the United States not only to remain engaged but also to exert its influence on the parties concerned, including Israel, to negotiate in earnest and reach a final settlement within the time frame posited. This might actually turn out to be the major, the potentially most important contribution of the Annapolis meeting.
Even with this positive vision many loose ends remain. At some point Hamas must be brought in; in parliament Olmert will have to rely on support by the Israeli Arabs should Lieberman and Shas abandon him; and there are further obstacles to be overcome. Yet my basic assumption remains valid: If the leaders do reach a final settlement – not an interim agreement, not a partial agreement, but one that clearly defines the end of the occupation, the end of the conflict and the end of all claims – then, on either side, public support will far exceed the strength of those opposing such a solution.
Postscript: Another unexpected, positive outcome of the conference, one undoubtedly due to the intervention of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, was the Saudi announcement that they would review the punishment meted out to the rape victim in Qatif.