George Bush and Condi Rice have achieved a major success in persuading the Saudis and entire Arab League to attend the Annapolis peace conference. Not only do the participants guarantee that Annapolis won’t fail even before it started they also give it the imprimatur of widespread Arab participation, which at least gives Annapolis a running chance of achieving something worthwhile.
The NY Times reports from Arab sources that the Syrians are likely to join too as long as they feel the Golan issue is addressed seriously. I find it preposterous that Condi is refusing to place the item on the formal agenda and that this is the sole obstacle to Syrian participation. To stand on ceremony on such a paltry issue seems niggling and cheap. This statement too denotes extreme condescension on the part of the Bushites toward Syria:
Bush administration officials said Friday that Syrian officials were free to bring up any issues they wanted during the conference, but that the United States would not specifically put the Golan Heights on the agenda. “We will not turn off anyone’s microphone,” a senior administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
It’s also bizarre to note that an earlier NY Times dispatch identified the anonymous “senior adminitration official” as David Welch:
Mr. Welch said “we won’t turn off the microphone” if Mr. Moallem, who rarely interacts with administration officials because of administration policy toward Syria, attends the conference and wishes to speak there.
So why would a subsequent article repeating his statement cloak him in anonymity? Slightly bizarre journalism.
But let’s assume Syria comes. That’s when it becomes interesting. Because now that Bush and presumably Olmert have achieved what they say they wanted the rubber hits the road. In other words, Israel can no longer refuse to enter final status negotiations and still maintain good faith in the international community. This may be Israel’s best and last chance in a generation to gain what it claims it wants: peace, security and normalization of relations with its Arab neighbors. To fail now, whether by lack of leadership or by refusing to come up with the goods might let the hellhounds of war loose in the Middle East.
It’s put up or shut up time for both Bush and Olmert. You got what you wanted. Now perform. Everyone knows the outlines of the final agreement will include a return to modified 1967 borders, a sharing of Jerusalem as dual capitals, full diplomatic recognition, international security guarantees, and a Right of Return that is largely transformed into a financial compensation package (along with symbolic physical return of a select number of Israeli Palestinian refugees). Olmert and most Israelis knows this. Bush and Condi know this. Abbas and most Palestinians knows this.
The radicals on both sides don’t know this. Las Vegas gambling billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who recently flayed AIPAC for tacitly endorsing a Congressional resolution calling for higher aid levels for the PA, doesn’t know this. The Israeli nationalist right and the Palestinian rejectionists don’t know this. (In fact, the catchy new hard-right Jewish rejectionist slogan is “Stop Munich II”). Will Bush and Olmert fold under the assault?
Saudi Arabia has put it all on the line for them. Either they deliver or their legacy will be written in blood in the pages of Middle East history. Which will it be?