Annapolis: debates among Israeli experts

Published: 7 December 2007
Briefing Number 208

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There has been intense debate in Israel about the Annapolis process. Here is a summary of the views (published in English) of nine Israeli experts and commentators: David Kimche, Barry Rubin, Michael Oren, Saul Singer, Gerald Steinberg, David Horovitz, Caroline Glick, Ami Ayalon and Eytan Gilboa. We could have included many more. We have deliberately chosen a diverse range of views, to reflect the range of views inside Israel generally.

David Kimche – Annapolis is more positive than people realise

Kimche, former Director-General of Israel 's Foreign Ministry, argues that Annapolis was more promising than many people believe. While the chances of reaching a deal by the end of 2008 are “at best 50/50”, he argues that there are real differences between this process and previous diplomatic processes. Firstly, he claims that Mahmoud Abbas and Salim Fayyad “reject violence” and are “dedicated to a peaceful solution”, in contrast to Yasser Arafat. Secondly, the Israeli “moderate right” now recognises the need for a two-state solution. Thirdly, the massive international support for Annapolis especially among Arab countries will help the parties reach an agreement. And fourthly, the Americans will be involved on an ongoing basis, albeit not at Presidential level. Kimche regards Annapolis to be a “milestone” and appeals to people to put their cynicism to one side ( Jerusalem Post, 30 November 2007 ).

Barry Rubin – there's a huge gap between Western and Arab perceptions

Barry Rubin is a prolific commentator on Middle Eastern affairs, and the director of the GLORIA international affairs thinktank, part of the Inter-Disciplinary Center in Herzliya , Israel . Rubin highlights the gap between how Western and Arab commentators and leaders view Annapolis . He maintains that the West persistently misunderstands the reasons why the conflict continues and therefore cannot possibly end the conflict. Rubin points out that most Palestinians still aspire to “total victory” over Israel in the long-term, and never “give anything”. Furthermore, Arab politics needs to be perpetuate the conflict with Israel , because it serves as an excuse for multiple failures in Arab societies. Rubin's greatest concern is that the US will try to pressure Israel , and appease the Arab world, forcing a solution that “makes things worse”. The main positive feature of Annapolis , he says, is that it shows that Israel wants peace, and may help avoid a Hamas overthrow of Fatah (IDC / Gloria Newsletter, 3 December 2007 ).

Michael Oren – Annapolis is a forum to rally opposition to Iran

Michael Oren, a senior fellow at the Shalem Center think-tank in Jerusalem , and the author of a definitive book on the Six Day War, argues that from 1939 to 1991, international conferences rarely proved successful in the context of Israel 's conflict with its neighbours. The prospects of progress following Annapolis are in Oren's view “at best remote”, not least because Israeli and Palestinian leaders are both domestically weak. However, Oren argues that Annapolis was successful in one sense: it has helped to galvanise the moderate Arab world against Iran (which fiercely condemned Annapolis ). He describes Iran as “radical and relentlessly aggressive” with powerful proxies in Hezbollah and Hamas, and describes Annapolis as a US-led effort to “rally opposition” to that “rogue state” (New York Times, 2 December 2007 ) .

Saul Singer – Key issues: stopping Iran, recognising Israel as a Jewish state

Singer, a leading Jerusalem Post columnist, argues that it is inconceivable that Israel can achieve a peace agreement with the Palestinians in 2008 while the confrontation with Iran reaches a critical point. Without a resolution of the Iranian challenge, the Annapolis process cannot succeed ( Jerusalem Post, 30 November 2007 ) . Singer also points out that the refusal of key figures in the pragmatic Palestinian leadership – Abbas, Erekat and Fayyad - to recognise Israel as a Jewish state is a severe obstacle to peace. This Palestinian mindset has to be challenged ( Jerusalem Post, 23 November 2007 ) .

Prof Gerald Steinberg – Mahmoud Abbas is too weak to forge peace

Gerald Steinberg is the director of NGO Monitor and a Professor of Conflict Resolution Studies at Bar-Ilan University . Steinberg argues that the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is “too weak, and perhaps unwilling” to lead Palestinian society to change meaningfully on the refugee issue, or to accept the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state in the context of a two-state solution. Steinberg's view is that the Palestinian Authority may need to be boosted by a “federation with Jordan ”, not least as Jordan “realises the dangers of a Hamas-controlled region” on its border. (Jewish News, 22 November 2007 )

David Horovitz – detaching diplomacy from security “cannot be done”

In a series of powerful editorials and opinion pieces published around Annapolis , Jerusalem Post editor David Horovitz explains that the Annapolis process faces fundamental difficulties. He reminds readers that the positive speech-making of Annapolis was reminiscent of the speeches which accompanied Oslo in 1993. Oslo was a failure, and now the forces opposing Annapolis are stronger than those which opposed Oslo . Horovitz explains that Annapolis is based on the idea that negotiations can proceed in 2008, “detached” from the security situation on the ground, which he describes as “dire”. Horovitz says that this detachment “cannot be done”. He also highlights the mindset of the Palestinian delegation at Annapolis : that the conflict is Israel 's fault, and that the Palestinians have no responsibility for it. Horovitz points out that that attitude will make it impossible to create a future partnership for peace ( Jerusalem Post, 27 and 30 November 2007 )

Caroline Glick – Annapolis endangers Israel 's security

Caroline Glick, a senior columnist on the Jerusalem Post, and well-known critic of the current Israeli government, argues that the Annapolis process is a threat to Israel 's security. She maintains that the Americans are more interested in securing a peace agreement by the end of the Bush Presidency than in ensuring that the Palestinians are serious about living at peace with Israel . She suggests that the Americans will turn a blind eye to Palestinian non-compliance with security obligations (as happened during the Oslo process) just for the sake of keeping the Annapolis process afloat. And she maintains that the US will constrain Israeli security operations in Gaza and in the West Bank , in spite on the Qassam missile onslaught, and the threat of attacks from Palestinian West Bank groups. Not only that, but they will bring huge pressure to bear on Israel regarding Jerusalem , and Israel 's future borders. Finally, she expresses horror at the way Israel's delegation was physically separated from Arab delegations when they entered the conference hall at Annapolis, calling this ‘apartheid' and a form of Arab anti-semitism. She points out that the Americans condoned this ‘humiliating' treatment of Israel ( Jerusalem Post, 30 November 2007 ).

Ami Ayalon – 2008 is a ‘window of opportunity', which must not be missed

Ayalon is a former commander of the Israeli Navy, a past contender for the Labour leadership, and the co-founder with Palestinian Professor Sari Nusseibeh of the One Voice movement. Ayalon argues that 2008 is a critical ‘window of opportunity' for a two-state solution. If it is not seized, then Israel 's future as a Jewish and democratic state is in doubt, which is why the Annapolis process “cannot afford to fail”. He proposes that Israel should undertake further confidence-building measures, and also enact a law compensating Jewish settlers living to the east of the security fence who wish to relocate. (Interview, Jerusalem Report magazine, 10 December 2007 ) .

Professor Eytan Gilboa – the Annapolis timetable for peace has been “artificially imposed” by the United States

Professor Gilboa is a political scientist and expert on the United States at the Begin-Sadat (‘BESA') thinktank at Bar-Ilan University . He argues that Annapolis was driven mainly by domestic US concerns – namely the desire of President Bush for a foreign policy legacy, and Condoleeza Rice's success in persuading him that Israeli-Palestinian peace could be that legacy. Gilboa points out that the deadline of the end of 2008 is an “artificial deadline” which relates to US presidential politics and is “not a serious move” in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (Ynet News, 26 November 2007 ).

Other Beyond Images resources:

See Briefing 207 – the Annapolis Declaration

See generally: Negotiations, Annapolis , and Peace-Making Efforts under All Briefings on the Beyond Images website.