The Washington Post has a slide show
of behind the scenes pix at the Annapolis talks. Note that the countries represented is now close to 50. David Hulme
Hosted by the US with Arab and Israeli support—more than 40 nations including significant participants Saudi Arabia and Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian talks in Annapolis were launched yesterday and get underway today. It is said to be just the beginning of a year long process. It seems that a number of critical factors are coalescing and there may be a positive outcome. Fear of the Iran-Hamas-Hezbollah axis, the continued stability of the moderate Arab states, Israel's security situation, Palestinian economic and humanitarian desperation, George Bush's fractured image and last year in office—are all elements in the mix.
The difficult decisions to be made by Israeli and West Bank Palestinian negotiators include the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees' right of return, borders, settlements. security and water rights. Jerusalem is a microcosm of the whole century long conflict, as my book, Identity, Ideology and the Future of Jerusalem
points out. The BBC's Martin Asser details the Jerusalem issue today in an article entitled Obstacles to Peace.
With the Annapolis talks now confirmed for November 26-27
, the Brookings Institution's Martin Indyk and Senior Fellow Tamara Cofman Wittes
have advice on the Middle East for the next US president. David Hulme
Former UK prime minister Tony Blair
, now envoy for the Quartet, announced economic and humanitarian initiatives today in Jerusalem. The idea of helping in this way is not new. Shimon Peres has encouraged such ventures before. This time they have the backing of the Israeli government in the run-up to Annapolis. David Hulme
According to Reuters: "Palestinian officials said the Annapolis conference would begin on Nov. 26. The main session will take place the following day, Israeli officials said." This is a small part of an article posted yesterday at our main Vision
page. David Hulme
Before the Annapolis talks get underway at the end of the month (date still unannounced), Israel's government has announced the release of 450 Palestinian prisoners in what is described as "a goodwill gesture
." Currently 11,000 are held. David Hulme
There is continued negativity in the press over the prospects for Annapolis to yield much in the way of an agreement on the central issues. The LA Times carried this perceptive op-ed piece yesterday, forwarded to me by its Israeli and Palestinian authors, Bernard Avishai and Sam Bahour.
Here's where our two Vision.org blogs, Causes of Conflict and First Followers, cross over. I regularly read Jim Davila's PaleoJudaica blog and he has posted an update on Simon Peres's recent visit to Turkey. It concerns the Israeli president's request for the loan of a famous inscription taken in late Ottoman times from Jerusalem.
You can read the report about the Siloam Inscription from circa 703 BCE in the November 17 posting here.
The Israel Project has released its weekly update.
While this is generally a useful overview, I am surprised that there is little about the two developments I mentioned yesterday. Firstly, the Knesset's move to frustrate attempts to redraw Jerusalem's borders to allow for the Palestinian capital to be established there gets no mention; secondly, Ehud Olmert's new condition that the Palestinians recognize Israel as "the state of the Jewish people" gets reference only via Saeb Erakat's rejection of the concept.
Two rather significant items that warrant more comment from the non-profit organization that in its own words, "provides journalists, leaders and opinion-makers accurate information about Israel."
Some Israeli parliamentarians appear to be throwing an obstacle in the path of the Annapolis peace process. Today, by a vote of 54 in favor they agreed preliminarily to up the required number of votes from 61 to 80 out of 120 before any changes can be made to a 1980 law that declared all of Jerusalem, East and West, Israel's "complete and united capital." The proposed bill was sponsored by Likud--the same party that shepherded through the 1980 law under Menachem Begin. This move could make potential agreement on any changes in the Israeli legal status of Jerusalem to accommodate Palestinian demands to have their capital in East Jerusalem much more arduous.
In what appears to be a separate development, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced a new Israeli demand ahead of the Annapolis talks. He said that agreement on Palestinian statehood must be based on recognition of Israel as "the state of the Jewish people." The demand was immediately rebuffed by the Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erakat, as being outside the bounds of the agreed 2003 Road Map. According to Reuters, "Erekat said Israelis 'can call themselves whatever they want -- we have recognised the state of Israel.'"
For more on Jerusalem as a final status issue in peace negotiations, see my Identity, Ideology and the Future of Jerusalem
(Palgrave Macmillan 2006).
As a follow up to the post of a few days ago, here's the BBC's report on Shimon Peres's visit to Turkey. Also visiting is Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Peres's hopes for Annapolis are clear.
With respect to the coming Annapolis talks, Shibley Telhami makes this important point in his posting at the Brookings Institution's site: "If there is no profound transformation on the ground, such as the removal of a significant number of roadblocks and checkpoints (the single most detrimental factor for the Palestinian economy and psychology), Annapolis will become a new metaphor for diplomatic failure."
Sadly, after a round of very positive sounding news reports coming out of Jerusalem, we are now hearing that the US and Israel are playing down expectations. See today's NYT. According to this report, in Israeli political circles a new verb has been coined, "lecondel"—"to come and go for meetings that produce few results"—a reference to Condoleezza Rice's many visits and based on her name. Telhami is right, unless there are changes on the ground after Annapolis, the whole affair will be another damp squib.
I have been writing a long series in Vision magazine titled 'Messiahs!-Rulers and the Role of Religion.' It’s almost completed—the last article will appear in the Fall issue to be published on the web and in print later this month.
The idea behind the series was to look at the notion that has deceived many leaders over the millennia—that they could become gods in their own lifetime. The series will I hope eventually see light as a book. It is an important theme, because it has led to the deception of leader and led and the destruction of millions. Whether we are talking about Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar, Constantine or Charlemagne, Stalin or Hitler, Mussolini or Mao—it is all the same piece of cloth. False messiahs do not deliver. Men who claim divinity create massive problems.
Two new books focus on an associated angle of the problem—awful cruelty in the midst of culture. Bernard Wasserstein’s Barbarism and Civilization—A History of Europe in Our Time opens with Walter Benjamin’s famous line that the two poles are simultaneously part of human history (“There is no document of civilization that is not simultaneously a document of barbarism.”) The theme of barbarism underlies Robert Gellately’s Lenin, Stalin and Hitler—The Age of Social Catastrophe, which describes Lenin as anything but the idealist of popular thought, but rather the equal of two of the 20th century’s worst killers.
What is the lesson we should draw from humanity’s all too willing acceptance of god-men? Look for Part 10 of Messiahs! on the main Vision page soon.
There is a useful summary of recent activities and comments relating to the upcoming Annapolis meetings here.
The Brookings Institution's Saban Forum was fortunate that its annual meeting in Jerusalem (November 3-5) occurred in advance of the Annapolis conference, resulting in the involvement of key players including Mahmoud Abbas, Salam Fayyad, Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni ,Tony Blair and Condoleezza Rice.
Israel's President Shimon Peres is to visit Turkey and address that country's parliament next week—a first for an Israeli head of state.
Perhaps reference will be made to the upcoming peace initiative in Annapolis.
Award Winning Documentary Explores Mid-East Conflict from a Grassroots Angle
An important award-winning film will be shown and discussed at the University of Denver this month:
Encounter Point will be presented by Dr. Amin Kazak and Dr. Herzl Melmed on Tuesday, November 13, 2007 at 6:30 p.m. in the CYBER CAFÉ at Ben Cherrington Hall.
According to documentary's official website, this is "an 85-minute feature documentary film that follows a former Israeli settler, a Palestinian ex-prisoner, a bereaved Israeli mother and a wounded Palestinian bereaved brother who risk their lives and public standing to promote a nonviolent end to the conflict. Their journeys lead them to the unlikeliest places to confront hatred within their communities." Its West Coast premiere was at the 2006 San Francisco International Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award for Best Documentary.
In the introduction to his new book, “A Possible Peace Between Israel and Palestine: An Insider's Account of the Geneva Initiative,” Menachem Klein notes that the only way forward in the Middle East crisis that has gripped Israeli and Palestinian societies for over 50 years is profound change on a personal level on both sides. Summing things up this past June, he writes, “It is possible to change, and positions must be changed.” This is an extraordinarily important book at this moment in time and should be read by all involved in the forthcoming Annapolis talks.
Menachem kindly wrote a comment for the dust jacket of my book “Identity, Ideology and the Future of Jerusalem”
(Palgrave-Macmillan, 2006), which makes the same point in its conclusion. There I note that peace will never come unless there is a realization at the deepest personal levels that peace begins within each individual. It is a matter not so much of “who am I?”, but “who should I be?” Success will come from the triumph of outgoing concern over self-interest. It is this kind of moral choice that underlies the solution to the seemingly perennial deadlock. Only by negotiating from this vantage point can lasting peace be achieved.
The Director-General of the Geneva Initiative, Gadi Baltiansky made a plea for positive attitudes across the board to the imminent negotiations. Last month he wrote,
In her speech in New York on September 24, [Israeli] Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said that now is the time. We have been given an historic opportunity for turning the two-state vision into reality, she said, and the next generations won’t forgive us if we fail.
She is right. The current generation won’t forgive either, because the price of failure may be terrible. The peace-loving Palestinians—and this is the majority on their side—will argue they have no partner on the Israeli side, and the only horizon they will see is the one of the fence, roadblock, and settlement. Meanwhile, peace-loving Israelis—and they are the majority on our side—will sink deeper into despair, and with it we shall see the sinking of the hope for a normal Jewish and democratic state.
Baltiansky was Press Secretary to Ehud Barak and a negotiator at talks with the Syrians and the Palestinians. He will speak twice this week (November 8 and 9) at the University of Denver’s Institute for the Study of Israel in the Middle East.
writing from Jordan in today’s New York Times, provides an alternative explanation of the reason behind Condoleezza Rice’s emphasis on Mid-East Peace. It’s about Iran, not the Israelis and Palestinians.
The next round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations scheduled for the forthcoming Annapolis, Maryland, conference (date yet to be announced) were being actively promoted in Jerusalem today by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Her optimism is being supported by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. There does seem more cause for optimism than in the final round of talks at Taba in late 2000, a last ditch attempt to gain some ground after the failed talks at Camp David, when Bill Clinton was unable to get agreement between Ehud Barak and Yasir Arafat.
Overlapping with Secretary Rice’s visit was the fourth meeting of the Saban Forum, a program of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. It brought “a high-level, bipartisan U.S. delegation to Jerusalem for discussions with their Israeli counterparts on the theme of ‘War and Peace in the Middle East.’” The official report on Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni’s address makes interesting reading. It was also encouraging to note the presence of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
For further background on the potential for peace, view these recent videos: