Previous talks have failed to find a solution that provides for peaceful coexistence
between Israelis and Palestinians [AFP]

Hosted by the US president and supported by Arab, European and other foreign ministers, Palestinian and Israeli leaders are expected to re-launch their long stalled negotiations in Annapolis on Tuesday.

In depth

Judging from its high attendance and low expectations, Annapolis is more likely to help three sitting ducks, Olmert, Abbas and Bush, than advance the cause of peace in the Middle East.

The summit also helps the "peace president" silence his domestic Iraq policy detractors as the "war president" tries to isolate his Middle East rivals like Iran who reject a pax Americana in the region.

Launching pad

One hopes that the meeting this week will walk in the footsteps of the "Annapolis Convention of 1786" that paved the way for US constitution and independence.

However, once the ceremony ends and real diplomacy begins, Annapolis 2007 will enter the diplomatic lexicon as another summit that sacrificed peace for the sake of process.

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If the run-up to the meeting is any guide, the morning after Annapolis promises more of the same Israeli rejection of deadlines, frameworks or principles for the negotiations that we have witnessed so far.

Israel has succeeded with Washington's help in making any progress in negotiations conditional on full Palestinian implementation of its absurd security demands as outlined by the 2002 US-authored International Roadmap for peace and Israel's reservations on it.

According to the Israeli government, the handicapped Palestinian Authority must destroy the "infrastructure of terror" by outlawing the likes of Hamas and imprisoning its fighters.

Short of a civil war, this can only lead to setbacks rather than breakthroughs.

It also holds the entire diplomatic enterprise hostage to sabotage by opposition from both sides; one that renders the freedom of each and every Palestinian dependent on guaranteeing the security of each and every Israeli.

Like all previous attempts before it, the 1993 Oslo Accords signed in Washington, the 1995 Interim Accords signed in Cairo as well as the 2002 International Roadmap, have tried and predictably failed to attain peace through a bilateral process dictated by Israel and supervised its American ally.

Seven years of flawed process

Since the Oslo agreement was signed between Palestinians and Israelis, six other interim accords have produced an unbalanced peace that privileges Israelis, discriminates against Palestinians, and inflames instability.

Unlike peace based on the balance of power, such as between Egypt and Israel, the diplomatic process between Israel and the Palestinians reflects a chronic and continuous imbalance between an aggressive occupation that cannot impose its will and bruised Palestinians who will not surrender.

So instead of arriving at a comprehensive peace agreement, Israel insisted on interim accords that allow it to dictate the pace of progress in a transitional process where agreements are reached in phases and implemented in stages with Israel holding veto power at each junction.

For the Palestinian Authority to carry its civic responsibilities or negotiate the freedom of its people, it had to continuously prove its security worthiness to Israel by cracking down on "extremists".

In the end, the so-called peace process that promised the Palestinians freedom and unity delivered despair and division.

In short, the "peace process" produced a precarious mode of equilibrium characterised by instability and recurring violence between occupier and occupied. It also led to intra-national instability for both Israel and the weaker Palestinians.

Seven years of destruction

After the failure of the Camp David Summit in 2000, Ehud Barak, the Israeli prime minister, dismissed Arafat's Palestinian Authority as "no partner" for peace, and his successor, Ariel Sharon, went on to carry out what Israeli scholar Baruch Kimmerling called "politicide" against the Palestinians or the destruction of the political and security infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority.

Mahmoud Abbas took power in 2005 [AFP]

Bankrupt and entangled with charges of corruption, Fatah embraced the US-supported Mahmoud Abbas as future president in 2005.

However, Israeli humiliation and indifference have undermined his attempted reforms and overtures.

Moreover, Israel's undermining of all outside mediation, and specifically of the bridging proposals by James Wolfensohn, International Quartet (US, UN, EU and Russia) special envoy, and Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, compelled the ever disenchanted Palestinians to hand Hamas a majority of the legislative council.

Instead of engaging Hamas through dialogue, the US and Israel enraged the Palestinians by sanctions that crippled Palestinian economy and deepened political tensions between an Islamist party eager to govern, and a power-addicted secular Fatah eager to rule.

Predictably, their disagreements became violent as Gaza took over the besieged Gaza strip and Fatah of the occupied West Bank.

Fourteen years of failure

Israel's collective punishments and Jewish settlements expansion, which tripled since the beginning of the diplomatic process, have emerged as the engine of instability and violence. Those policies increased tensions and deepened the antipathy towards the negotiations among Palestinians and Israelis alike.

Dissatisfied Israelis changed six governments in dozen years while one of their own assassinated former premier Yitzhak Rabin.

Feeling betrayed, the Palestinians grew more bitter and more divided as vicious cycle of violence fed onto accusations against of Fatah doing Israel's dirty work, and contributed to Hamas's popularity as the political underdog and spokesman for the marginalised and the forgotten.

One dozen years later, the misery of the besieged Palestinian territories is paralleled only by the anxiety of a deadlocked Israeli society.

The more Israel segregates the Palestinians behind high concrete walls and barbed fences, the more it ghettoises Jewish communities and settlements behind security towers.

Practical conditions and a miracle

For any future diplomatic process to succeed, it must be short on process and long on peace.  This is possible if three important conditions are met.

The United States and Israel have refused
to deal with Hamas [AFP]
First, the negotiations must be based on solid legal grounds with a limited timeframe and well-defined endgame of two-state solution separated by the 1967 borders.

The same needs to apply to Jerusalem - an open city and the capital of two states. Any changes on the borderline must be negotiated on the basis of exchange of territories equal in quality and quantity.

Likewise, no solution is possible without Israel admitting its historical and moral responsibility for the refugee question in a spirit that paves the way towards the implementation of their right for return in a fair and creative ways.

Second, security measures should be implemented as part of an integrated and bilateral commitment to safeguard life and property, not as unilateral means to demean the Palestinians and take over their property.

Improving Palestinian living conditions free of fear, roadblocks, harassment and prisons will improve security conditions for both peoples. Likewise, Palestinian unity needs to be seen as a necessary step that underlines not undermines security.

Lastly, peace must be comprehensive to be lasting and therefore should include the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights.

And it must be understood that if the parties can not arrive at an agreement by the assigned deadline, Israel must be pressured to withdraw from all occupied lands in favour of a UN or Quartet trusteeship. Otherwise, Israel will not have a real incentive to make a true effort to accommodate the Palestinians.

It will take a miracle for a US administration that sees the Middle East through Israeli eyes and the Palestinian issue through the prisms of the "war on terrorism" to pressure Israel to allow for a sovereign viable and livable Palestinian state to emerge sooner rather than later.

Source: Al Jazeera