Initial Post-Annapolis Talk Today in Jerusalem

Initial Post-Annapolis Talk Today in Jerusalem

by Terry Walz

The first formal follow-up of the Annapolis “peace conference” that brought Israelis and Palestinians together to pledge a renewal of the peace process will be held Wednesday, December 12, in Jerusalem in a meeting between the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to begin discussions on “core issues.”  The skepticism expressed by so many outside the conference confines continues unabated, and tomorrow will be a test of whether or not that skepticism is merited.

The situation does not look good, for a number of reasons.  First of all, the Gazans have been left out of the equation, and 1.4 million Palestinians are being held hostage in what the Israelis call an “enemy entity.”  The blockade of Gaza has not been lifted; the Qassam rocket attacks that mostly land harmlessly on Israeli towns built close to the Gaza border have not ceased. And the Israeli air force continues to bomb the Strip, killing two-three Palestinians (called “gunmen”) almost every day.

But today they upped the ante, and sent in some 30 tanks, killing 8 “gunmen.”  The IDF issued a statement to do that the raid was “nothing unusual,” but of course it was. In a patch of land only twice the size of Washington, DC, raids of that size are highly disruptive, especially coming on top of a fuel embargo that began three weeks ago.

Amjad Shawa, a Palestinian NGO Network coordinator for Gaza, is quoted in today’s Institute for Public Accuracy press release, saying: “The conditions here are getting worse and worse. Eight people have been killed by the Israelis so far today, one journalist was injured. People are dying regularly because they can’t leave Gaza to get medical care since all the crossings are basically closed. A few trucks with food have gotten in. The factories and almost the entire productive sector have ground to a halt. The siege affects every part of life—limited electricity and water; there are no clothes for winter coming in, no paper for schools. People in Gaza are not alive and not dead, just in this huge prison and we don’t know when it will end.”

Third, within days of the Annapolis conference concluding, the Israeli Minister of Housing announced that 307 more units would be added to the Jewish settlement in east Jerusalem on Jabal Abu Ghunaym (which was renamed Har Homa).  The Israelis claim that Jerusalem had been annexed after 1967 war, and therefore an increase in settlement housing is within their rights.  But as Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said on Tuesday, “the kingdom strongly condemns Israel’s decision to expand settlement building in East Jerusalem, which contradicts the bases and principles of the Annapolis peace conference.”

Similarly, the proposed construction was condemned by Condoleezza Rice, King Abdallah II of Jordan, and President Abdallah Gul of Turkey, among others, the latter two in a joint statement in Ankara on Wednesday. Gul added, “The plan is obviously contradictory to the decisions taken at the Annapolis summit.”

And the Palestinians condemned it, as would be expected. Nonetheless, they have decided not to boycott the Wednesday session with the Working Groups, most likely in the hope that the Israeli decision would be reversed in compliance with the wishes of the international community.  But it doesn’t look good, from this vantage point, and it makes one wonder whether the Olmert government is deceitful or simply not in control, and if so, how well does that forebode for the “peace process”?

The next important post-Annapolis meeting will be in Paris on December 17, when a “donor conference” is scheduled.  President Mahmoud Abbas is hoping to raise $5.6 billion for the Palestinian Authority, much of it no doubt not payable until a peace treaty is signed. It seems like a great deal of money, but it should be remembered that the Israelis recently negotiated a new arms deal with the US gives them $6 billion all at once (two installments of $3 billion each, payable in one year), and they don’t have to wait until the Palestinians agreed to their take on “core issues.”

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