Stateside With Rosalea: Annapolis Overview
Before the speeches from Bush, Abbas, and Olmert, I took the liberty of asking Tony Walker, International Editor of The Australian Financial Review, and former Middle East correspondent for the Financial Times for his overview of the conference.
"This is largely a ceremonial event. The question, of course, is whether the ceremonial event will lead to something more substantive, such as a proper Middle East peace process negotiation, and I think they’re still quite a long way away from getting to that point. But at least this is a slightly more promising situation than we’ve had for the last seven years since the Camp David II process collapsed in 2001.
So, there’s a glimmer of hope but it’s not much more than a glimmer. The two sides are still very far apart on substantial issues of territory and what to do about Jerusalem and refugees. There’s a lot of work that would need to be done before they actually got to a full-blown peace process—a lot of preparatory work which clearly hasn’t been done.
The other problem is that, if you compare 2000 with now, the circumstances are a lot less propitious. The Clinton Administration had got many more ducks in a row as far as the peace process is concerned than we have now. The Palestinians were more or less unified under a single leadership. The Israeli government was a bit more substantial than it is now—a bit more—and the two sides were in a better position to deliver on any agreements that might have been reached.
Of course, now, we have a Palestinian leadership which is… we have a divided country, effectively, which is sort of involved in a low-level civil war between Hamas and Fatah, the mainstream faction. And on the Israeli side, we have a very weak Prime Minister who’s barely clinging on to power. There’s no real consensus in Israel on the real tricky issues, which of course are to do with trading land for peace.
On the issue of Jerusalem, there is no consensus on shared sovereignty over that issue. And you also have a situation in the Middle East which is much more unstable than was the case in 2000. There was not a war in process. There was not a situation where you had the United States at loggerheads with a major power to the same extent—I’m talking about Iran—that you have now.
If you look across the horizon at where we are now, compared with where we were then, things don’t look very promising at all. Of course, the other important element of this is that you had a President then who was really willing to roll up his sleeves and become involved in pushing this process forward. I don’t think that George Bush is prepared to roll up his sleeves and to push the process forward. "
(Scoop coverage continuing live from Annapolis...)