Skeptical Palestinians see limited Annapolis gains

Author : Mircea Birca | Sunday, November 25, 2007

Most Palestinians are skeptical Tuesday’s Annapolis peace conference can speed the creation of a state of their own but many still hope it may lead to improvements in living conditions and security.Officials and analysts said the attendance of fellow Arabs including Saudi Arabia and Syria at the talks near Washington would also bolster Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas and help isolate his militant domestic opponents like Hamas.

“The Palestinians are under no illusion that the peace process to be launched at Annapolis will lead to much progress on the peace front because Israel has not shown seriousness in reaching agreement until now,” said analyst Abdel-Majod Sweilem.

“But there is a belief the year that will follow Annapolis, during which negotiations will take place, may lead to some kind of temporary halt to the deterioration in the economy and internal security.”

Chief among aspirations for Palestinian voters are economic growth and freedom of movement, both of which they see hampered by Israeli security measures. They also want to see Israel meet commitments to stop Jewish settlement and confiscating land.

By the same token, Hamas and other opponents who have condemned Abbas for even talking to Israel, stand to make political gains at his expense if Israel fails to take steps to improve daily life immediately after Annapolis, analysts say.

“If people don’t feel the difference after Annapolis, the opposition will be given ammunition against Abbas’ policies,” analyst Ali Jarbawi said.

But he doubted Hamas had the strength to seize power in the larger, Israeli-occupied West Bank as it did in the Gaza Strip in June: “I don’t believe they will have enough ammunition to change the status quo in the West Bank as they did in Gaza. Abbas’ legitimacy is intact because there is no alternative.”

RENEWED ATTENTION

Israelis and Palestinians have, in three months, failed to draft a joint policy document setting out how to resolve core issues for founding a state — borders, the status of Jerusalem and the future of Palestinian refugees. Negotiations on the final status of a peace settlement will begin after Annapolis.

But Abbas believes the U.S.-sponsored conference is an opportunity to bring the Palestinian cause back to international attention and to launch final negotiations after seven years of violence and a deadlock in peace moves. Arab attendance has also delighted him, giving him support in taking difficult decisions.

Palestinian officials say their own presence at Annapolis has benefits. It will establish Abbas as a partner in a peace process after Washington and Israel shunned his predecessor Yasser Arafat when Palestinians turned to violence in 2000.

It may rekindle international support for Palestinians — an aid conference follows in Paris next month — and, officials say, the conference should boost Abbas at Hamas’s expense and may also ensure a revived U.S. interest in making peace.

Hamas, shunned by Israel and its Western allies for refusing to renounce violence, has condemned the international parley.

Significantly for those who see the conference invitation list as partly an attempt to isolate the Islamists, Hamas also voiced “shock” at the decision of Arab states, including its ally Syria, to send ministerial delegations to Annapolis.

Analyst Jarbawi called that a “painful blow” to Hamas.

Syria has also refused to let Hamas and other factions hold a conference in Damascus to express their opposition to Annapolis. Hamas will hold a conference in Gaza on Monday. 

For some Palestinian officials, the risk remains of violence if the Annapolis process fails to deliver political gains — a real possibility given the distances between the two sides and the problems all the leaders face in implementing any deal.

The failure of the last peace talks at Camp David in 2000 was followed by a new Palestinian uprising against occupation.

Analyst Ghassan Khatib said awareness of that risk could ensure leaders better manage the outcome of talks: “I think this time they’ll come up with a positive conclusion,” he said.

“Unlike Camp David, they will try to give the impression that this is a successful beginning of a potential process, to keep the hope, and that will keep up the momentum.”

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