Labor MKs as well as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert are hinting that the Annapolis, Maryland conference is a failure, and are scrambling for new tactics to rescue the initiative that was supposed to lead to the creation of an Arab state on the Land of Israel.
Opening the Monday cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Olmert warned not to expect breakthroughs at the summit: "I do not recommend that anyone overstate its importance and create exaggerated expectations, but one certainly cannot understate the importance of the fact that the US President and, with him, the leaders of the most important countries in the world, are convening a meeting of such broad international stature in order to support the direct negotiations between us and the Palestinians."
Olmert emphasized that the summit was initiated by US President George Bush.
According to Channel 2 TV news, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is currently engaged in an effort to recruit support for Annapolis from a group of former politicians and officials. Olmert convened a meeting with former IDF Chief of Staff and Tourism Minister Amnon Shahak, former Shinui MK Eti Livni and former Head of the SHABAK General Security Service Yaakov Perry, and enlisted their support for the Annapolis initiative. These three people and others are expected to sign advertisements in the press supporting Olmert, whose diplomatic efforts enjoy little support among ministers and Knesset members in his own coalition.
Labor Minister Ami Ayalon told the Labor party's central committee Sunday night that the party "fell asleep on its watch" in the lead-up to the Annapolis conference and allowed the political right to create an atmosphere that is preventing the conference from succeeding.
"We did not do everything we could do in order to balance disproportionate pressure by Lieberman and Shas," he said. "Lieberman wielded much more influence than we should have allowed him to." The Shas pa
"As of now there is no joint declaration and no draft for such a declaration either," a senior source in Jerusalem said.
rty and Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party have threatened to pull out of the Kadima-led ruling coalition if the "core issues" of Jerusalem, final borders and the proposed influx of Arabs into pre-1967 Israel are discussed in Annapolis.
Ayalon added: "Today, Olmert is reaching the same conclusions we have been peddling for years, but we were silent, and it's a good thing we're finally talking."
Former Labor chief Amir Peretz criticized his successor, Ehud Barak, at the Labor central committee assembly and called upon him to "wake up" and do whatever is needed to cause the Annapolis conference to succeed. He, too, sounded a doleful note: "We should have led a struggle in the streets in order to back the Prime Minister," he said.
Peretz attacked Meretz party leader Yossi Beilin, too, for saying the Annapolis summit was doomed to fail. "You went to Geneva, the pinnacle of your life," Peretz said, referring to Beilin's talks with PLO leaders about a "two state solution." He called out to Beilin: "This is the stage décor that you created. What happened to you?"
No joint declaration?
An atmosphere of crisis around the planned summit was widely reported on Sunday. A senior diplomatic source in Jerusalem said that it is possible the two sides will not even issue a joint declaration. Instead, he told reporters, each side may make its own declaration.
"The Palestinians are back to square one, they have taken everything back to the first day of negotiations," the source said.
The source did not agree that this was a crisis however. He said it was enough that representatives of 40 countries would be on hand to launch the diplomatic process, and that most of the representatives would be foreign ministers. Prime Minister Olmert, too, put a brave face on the situation and said that the very convening of the conference was its success. He is due to meet PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas Monday.
At Monday's Israeli cabinet session, Olmert said that the real negotiations would not take place at Annapolis. "The negotiations will begin after Annapolis, and they will be very intensive, very serious and will deal with all the substantive issues that are an inseparable part of the process, which must lead to a solution of national states for two peoples," Olmert announced.
The Annapolis conference will last 24 hours. It will begin at a dinner Monday evening, November 26, an
Prime Minister Olmert put a brave face on the situation and said that the very convening of the conference was its success.
d end the next day. It is to inaugurate a diplomatic process that is expected to last one year, but will not be a venue for negotiation itself, unlike previous diplomatic summits. According to Channel 2 Arab-affairs expert Ehud Yaari, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who built up great expectations regarding the conference, "has obviously executed a backflip." Channel 2 also said that Syria will attend the summit.
Syria will have its own state representative at the conference, and will not be part of the Arab League team. The USA has apparently changed its attitude towards Syria and is willing to treat it with less suspicion, if it cuts its ties with Iran. Syria, on its side, seems to feel it has more to gain by participating in the diplomatic process than by staying out of it.
After Jordanian King Abdullah II visited Syrian President Assad Sunday, Assad issued a statement supporting Mahmoud Abbas' leadership and a two-state solution. This statement is being presented by the press as a softening of Syria's positions. Until now, Syria has been supportive of Hamas, which openly wants to destroy Israel.