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Annapolis vs. radical Islam

Bush Plan For Israeli-Palestinian Peace Also Designed To Confront Radical Islam in Middle East

Most Of Arab World Now On Board & Ready To Actively Support Peace Deal

Underlying Reality Between Israel and Palestinians Has Still Not Changed

Bush, Abbas and Olmert in Annaplois

At Annapolis, Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Abbas were the two protagonists but it was U.S President George Bush who was in the global spotlight. Bush made clear he planned on being not only stage director at the conference but also director for his new initiative to be enacted during his final year in the White House. And indeed, Annapolis had all the markings of impacting on the troubled Middle East far beyond the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The IsraCast assessment is that against the backdrop of the Iranian nuclear threat and the Iraqi imbroglio, Bush hopes that movement on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations will change the current Middle-East mosaic for the better.

Another major development is the participation of Saudi-Arabia and other Arab states which do not have diplomatic relations with Israel. They are now on board the new peace drive and as such, signal their readiness to officially recognize Israel in the future. The awareness that the Arab states and Israel face a common enemy in Al-Qaeda, radical Islam and in a nuclear armed Iran has led to this major shift which found expression at the conference. The Saudi Foreign Minister was seen applauding Olmert's speech which was carried live on Saudi-Arabian television.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert

It appears that Annapolis has turned the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a test case for confronting radical Islam in the region. Iran, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas can no longer be bought off or ignored and must be reckoned with. On this there is general agreement by all the Annapolis participants, Syria excepted. But the question is what happens a day after? Are the Palestinian and Israeli camps unified sufficiently to conduct a serious negotiating process that will demand painful concessions from both sides. The Palestinians have been split by a bloody civil war. Radical Hamas rules Gaza and threatens to unleash a 'rain of Qassam rockets' on Israel in response to Annapolis. Moreover, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh has branded Abbas as a traitor to the Palestinian cause with no mandate to negotiate. Now restricted to the West Bank, President Abbas does not have enough power to dismantle the terror organizations who defy his leadership. In any case, after Annapolis Abbas can expect to pick up significant moral ands financial backing from the Arab states and the international community. Will this and Israeli concessions by enough to build a Palestinian consensus and power base for peace with Israel?

Back in Jerusalem, Olmert also faces troubles of his own. Two of his right-wing coalition partners criticize what they see as unwarranted concessions to the Palestinians who give nothing in return but empty promises. However, the prime minister couched his speech in careful language that is not likely to drive Shas and Israel Beitenu out of the government - not in the short term anyway. Olmert walked a political tightrope. His commitment to the peace process will probably persuade Labor to remain in the government despite any Winograd condemnation. Things are on the move and opinion polls will likely show that most Israelis will want to give Annapolis a chance. Anyway, Defense Minister Barak and Foreign Minister Livni will ensure that Olmert does not give away the store.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

Opposition leader Bibi Netanyahu of Likud has gone on the political warpath charging that Olmert has no more idea about waging peace than he had about waging the Second Lebanon War. But at present, it still looks as if the Likud cannot muster enough votes in the Knesset to topple the Olmert government. Settlers in Judea and Samaria have launched their own initiative declaring they will do all it takes to prevent any dismantling of settlements or concessions on Jerusalem which they contend will threaten Israel's survival.

Annapolis has given a shot in the arm not only to Abbas and Olmert. President Bush and Secretary Rice will also get high marks for raising Israeli-Palestinian peace-making to a higher level of intensity. Then there are the Arab regional players signaling they are ready to get serious if Olmert and Abbas are. Farther afield, Iran which threatens everyone has been left totally isolated - good news for Israel as Tehran enters the critical stage of its nuclear weapons drive and all that implies.

U.S President George Bush

Syria, Iran's partner in the evil axis, sent its deputy foreign minister to make a low-level appearance. However, Damascus has yet to pay the price of admission due to its meddling in Lebanon and Iraq and support for the radical Palestinian organizations it hosts in Damascus. So, President Bashar has one foot with the good guys, one with the bad as he ponders which way to go. Bush pointedly referred to Lebanon while ignoring Syria in his remarks. For his part, Olmert indicated he was ready to make peace with all Muslim states but his game-plan is 'Palestinians first '. Meanwhile in Jerusalem, President Shimon Peres got into the act by saying ' indirect contacts have been going on between Israel and Syria under the carpet' (apparently Turkish).

Annapolis was an impressive staging of diplomatic theater. The curtain went up, the choreography looked great, now its up to the actors to play their roles with Israelis, Palestinians and the rest of the Middle-East waiting in the audience with baited breath. Those present for the Annapolis curtain raiser want to see the third and final act - but will all the actors eventually get on the same page - at present they're far from it.

David Essing

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