Annapolis is just a first step, says analyst

As the Annapolis peace conference — or forum, as US officials are now calling it — kicked off Tuesday, the chief missive was to lower expectations, that this was not the be all and end all of the process, but rather the very first, tiny step.
This might not bode well for the anticipated one-year time frame in place to create a Palestinian state. It took intense diplomacy over many months to make Annapolis happen with all participants in tow; and now the timetable seems to have been modified, with the Israelis against the one-year limit and the Americans not opposed to an extension.
US President George W. Bush was also clear that expectations must be kept in check, saying that Annapolis was merely a beginning, and the forum would not emerge with an ironclad agreement.
“Our purpose here in Annapolis is not to conclude an agreement. Rather, it is to launch negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians,” Bush said. “For the rest of us, our job is to encourage the parties in this effort and to give them the support they need to succeed.”
Former Ambassador to Israel and Chairman of the Committee on Arab, Foreign and National Security Affairs at the Shoura Council Mohammed Bassiouny told Daily News Egypt that the conference could not fail because there were no expectations of a binding agreement.
“It [Annapolis] will never fail, as it wasn’t created to make declarations or agreements. It is just a starting a point for launching negotiations, the beginning of efforts and not the end of efforts,” Bassiouny said. “It is not a question of success or failure, but if it manages to create an avenue for the start of negotiations, then it has succeeded.”
One of the main players not invited to Annapolis is Hamas, who rule Gaza and were the former government in Palestinian territories after winning elections in early 2006. Hamas originated as an off shoot of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
And while Hamas are holding protests in Gaza against Annapolis, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt are also less than enthused about the conference.
General-Secretary of the Muslim Brotherhood Mahmoud Ezzat told Daily News Egypt, “All the sides are downplaying the importance of this conference, including the US, so it is clear that it is just a public relations meeting. With it Bush means to achieve some domestic success, showing that he can achieve some progress in the region because his other policies in the Middle East have failed. I believe that it will not convince anyone, whether in the US or the people of the Arab world, whose positions differ from the positions of their governments.”
The Muslim Brotherhood leader also said that by attending this conference, the Arabs were making concessions without getting anything in return.
“The Arab League Secretary General [Amr Moussa] said we will not normalize [relations] for free, but just attending is some sort of normalization. The Israelis have announced they will try to take more concessions from the Palestinians especially in the right of return [of Palestinian refugees] and so I think it is quite clear to all,” Ezzat said.
Prior to the start of the meeting, Bush made a statement stressing that now was the time for Mideast peace since “a battle is under way for the future,” of the region, no doubt alluding to pervasive Iranian influence.
“First, the time is right because Palestinians and Israelis have leaders who are determined to achieve peace,” he said. “Second, the time is right because a battle is under way for the future of the Middle East and we must not cede victory to the extremists. Third, the time is right because the world understands the urgency of supporting these negotiations.”
“Today, Palestinians and Israelis each understand that helping the other to realize their aspirations is the key to realizing their own, and both require an independent, democratic, viable Palestinian state,” Bush said.
“Such a state will provide Palestinians with the chance to lead lives of freedom, purpose and dignity. And such a state will help provide Israelis with something they have been seeking for generations: to live in peace with their neighbors,” he added.

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