Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 01:33 | SYDNEY
Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 01:33 | SYDNEY

Why do today what you can put off to tomorrow?


Anthony Bubalo

20 November 2007 10:30

Next week’s meeting between the foreign ministers of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the US and assorted Arab countries in Annapolis, assuming it goes ahead, will be little more than a photo opportunity for three desperate governments. The Bush Administration is desperate to regain control of the regional agenda; Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government is desperate to prove it has an agenda; and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas is desperate to prove he has a government.

The Bush Administration is hoping that Annapolis will help it forge a regional coalition to deal with the key strategic consequence of its Iraqi misadventure – the empowerment of Iran.  As Martin Indyk explained last month in Newsweek:

The leaders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt understand that they, too, need to offer a credible alternative to the violent defiance of Hamas, Hizbullah and their Iranian sponsors. Rice and Olmert want to cement a virtual Arab-Israeli coalition to balance Iran's bid for regional hegemony. Iran's Sunni neighbors in the Gulf are similarly inclined, and resolving the Palestinian problem could provide the glue.

Olmert is hoping Annapolis will provide his government with a new lease on political life, after last year’s Lebanon war terminated the unilateral disengagement agenda around which his Kadima Party was formed. He will, however, have to thread all this through a fractious coalition government. To understand the Israeli political maths, read Daniel Levy’s excellent post here. Meanwhile, Abbas will be hoping Annapolis helps him re-build his authority after Hamas’ coup in Gaza – though Hamas’ maladministration there is already doing a lot of the work for him. 

Will desperate times lead to desperate measures?  In the underwhelming words of Olmert’s spokesperson, ‘both sides seem ripe for a joint statement.’  

There will be some window dressing. Olmert has promised a settlement freeze which probably won’t actually freeze settlements. Abbas will no doubt make another commitment to fight terrorist groups and will fail to fight anyone. And Mid-East Envoy Tony Blair has promised a job creation scheme. But in terms of actually dealing with the serious issues – Jerusalem, refugees, the borders of a future Palestinian state – Annapolis will follow the immemorial practise of Arab-Israeli peacemaking and throw these issues into the tomorrow tray.

Like the original Camp David treaty between Egypt and Israel that promised but never delivered Palestinian autonomy, like the Madrid Process in 1991 that launched negotiations that never went anywhere, and like the Oslo process that superseded Madrid and left the tough issues to the end (only for these issues to literally end the Oslo process), Annapolis will launch a new round of negotiations over the coming year. 

So let’s wait for tomorrow. Let’s hope Olmert can keep his coalition from falling apart. Let’s hope it doesn’t matter that the Palestinian Authority has already fallen apart. Let’s hope the Bush Administration can force the two sides to accept something of which neither really wants a part. And let’s hope there is no truth to the Arab saying ‘Bukra fil mish mish’.  It translates as ‘tomorrow there will be Apricots’; it means, tomorrow never comes.