Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, November 27th, 2007
In this news round up on the Annapolis Conference, I begin with the significance of President Bush's opening remarks.
Here is the text of Bush's Speech on Monday, made at the opening ceremonies of the conference. Bush's words will probably be the most important aspect of the conference. We all want to hear him take "possession" of the peace process. He did not do this on Monday. Instead, he repeated the standard pablum of the last 7 years.
Bush's speech cannot be read as promising for Syria. Syria was not mentioned.
The stress was on Democracy – Democracy as a precondition for any concessions to Palestinians.
The only concrete help for Palestinians offered by Washington was to assist democratic "capacity building." Bush avoided any mention of UN Security Council Resolution 242, which is the basis of international law and has been the starting point for all previous peace efforts. He stressed that peace must come through a "negotiated settlement," which is code for the Palestinians giving up hunks of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. "Negotiated Settlement" rejects international law and the 1967 borders and accepts the concept of a solution based on the balance of power between Israelis and Palestinians, which is very lopsided in Israel's favor. It means Palestinians will have to accept further land loss. Many were hoping that Bush would backtrack on his previous promise to Israel that it would not have to return to 1967 borders and could keep settled parts of the West Bank. Bush did not backtrack. Instead he seemed to confirm his previous promise by not mentioning 242. Here is the key paragraph.
The Israelis must do their part. They must show the world that they are ready to begin — bring an end to the occupation that began in 1967 through a negotiated settlement. This settlement will establish Palestine as a Palestinian homeland, just as Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people. Israel must demonstrate its support for the creation of a prosperous and successful Palestinian state by removing unauthorized outposts, ending settlement expansion and finding other ways for the Palestinian Authority to exercise its responsibilities without compromising Israel’s security.
The only oblique reference to Syria was a reference to Lebanon. Bush stressed the important of cultivating "Democracy" in Lebanon, which is code for defeating Hizbullah and empowering Sunni Lebanese and Saad Hariri's Future Movement over Shiites, pushing out Syrian influence, and defeating the Lebanese opposition. He made no mention of Lebanese compromise or a negotiated settlement, which must have been music to the ears of the March 14 movement.
Bush to Syria: Leave Lebanon alone
Nov. 27 (UPI) —
U.S. President George Bush on Tuesday used a Middle East peace conference to warn Syria against interfering in Lebanon's effort to elect a new president.
Some 40 nations are attending the conference at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., where Bush announced an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians to begin talks on a peace treaty immediately.
Toward the end of his remarks, Bush turned his attention to Lebanon, which has been divided by pro- and anti-Syrian factions. Bush urged the Arab world to let democracy prevail.
"The Lebanese people are (in the) process of electing a president. That decision is for the Lebanese people to make, and they must be able to do so free from outside interference and intimidation," Bush urged. "As they embark on this process, the people of Lebanon can know that the American people stand with them and we look forward to the day when the people of Lebanon can enjoy the blessings of liberty without fear of violence or coercion."~
The following is a selection of articles:
Syria informed Mesha’l and Tehran that “Golan is a national priority, Hamidi, al-Hayat (Translation by mideastwire.com)
Ibrahime Al-Humaydi of Al-Hayat, an independent Saudi owned newspaper, wrote on November 27: “Knowledgeable sources confirmed to Al-Hayat yesterday on the eve of the convening of the international conference in Annapolis that peace with Israeli is a “strategic choice” for Syria. The sources stressed the importance of Israel “withdrawing from all occupied Arab lands” and the importance of the conference acting as a “launching pad” for negotiations along all the peace tracks. Palestinian sources announced to Al-Hayat that the Syrian foreign minister Walid Al-Muallem received yesterday the head of the Hamas politburo Khaled Mesha’l after he met with the Iranian ambassador in Damascus Hassan Akhtari. The sources added that Al-Muallem “explained to Mesha’l and Akhtari the reasons behind Syria’s decision to attend the conference”.
“The sources announced that Al-Muallem “focused on the status of the Golan Heights as a top national priority for the Syrians and that it is not right to convene an international peace conference without discussing the Golan issue whether it had a serious chance of launching serious negotiations or if it was just a platform for reciting attitudes and points of view”. Syrian officials pointed to the statement issued by the late Syrian president Hafiz Al-Assad ahead of the launching of the peace process in Madrid in 1991 in which he announced: “it is not right for the nation that a conference to solve the Arab-Israeli struggle be convened while the issue of the Golan Heights is not included in its agenda”. The Syrian delegation to the conference is headed by the deputy foreign minister Faisal Al-Miqdad…
“Syrian sources clarified to Al-Hayat that Damascus’s attitude is based on the fact that “peace was and still is a strategic option”. After the sources noted that the past seven years were distinguished by two things: the absence of the peace process from the agenda of the American president George Bush and the lack of a political will for peace in the government of the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, they noted that the Syrian officials “remained steadfast in their attitude calling for resuming the peace negotiations and stressing the necessity of working towards just and comprehensive peace vis-à-vis the Israeli refusals and American obstructions”…” – Al-Hayat
Report: Bush, Rice won't address Golan issue
Neither US President George W. Bush nor Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will mention Syria or the future of the Golan Heights in their speeches Tuesday, Channel 10 quoted a State Department official as saying Monday.
However, the official said, Syria's delegate to the parley, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad, would be permitted to address the Golan issue if he wished.
The report comes after an editorial in the Syrian daily Tishrin published Monday declared that Syria would " attend the Annapolis conference in order to examine the US's commitment to peace."
According to the writer, the Syrians are pessimistic because of the Americans' past history.
"Syria agreed to attend the Annapolis conference but it is not naïve. [Syria] knows Israel does not want peace and is responsible for the seven-year hiatus in the peace process."
Syria's quest to regain Golan takes new shape
Reuters – By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
Under the gaze of an Israeli tank, Syrian bulldozers slice through rocky terrain to build roads just inside a ceasefire line separating the occupied Golan Heights from the rest of Syria.
Apartment blocks will follow for thousands of refugees on land facing their hilltop village of Adnanieh, which was lost to Israel in battle 40 years ago along with the rest of the Golan, a fertile plateau south of Damascus.
More than 1,000 flats for refugees from Adnanieh are planned, and infrastructure is being laid out for housing schemes facing other occupied villages, government engineer Hilal al-Ghaeb told Reuters.
"These projects are a message to Israel. The refugees will no longer be scattered in slums and camps all around Syria. Soon they will live here and stare right at their Israeli occupiers," Ghaeb said.
The Golan is at the focus of Syria's participation in the U.S. sponsored peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland, which starts on Tuesday….
Among Golan refugees, who number 600,000, counting their descendants, Annapolis meanS little.
"Israel is feeling very comfortable with U.S. support higher than ever and the Arabs in shambles. I look daily across this line and see Israeli settlers cultivating more of our land," Hassan Ibrahim said. Continued…
The Annapolis Summit
Annapolis Has No Legitimacy Without Syria
November 26, 2007: Washington Post Global
Syria finally decided on November 25 to attend the U.S. peace conference in Annapolis. This came only after the U.S. incorporated the Golan Heights issue into the conference agenda, after Syrian protests that it would not attend unless the occupied Heights were on the conference table. Had Syria not chosen to attend, the conference would have been doomed to fail. The reason is simple: the Americans cannot talk peace in the Middle East without Syria.
Not much has changed in terms of Syrian demands towards the Middle East peace process since Madrid, 1991. I’ll first detail the story here at length, because I believe it to be a prelude to what will happen at Annapolis on November 27.
On March 6, 1991, after the liberation of Kuwait, President George Bush Sr. gave his famed victory speech, saying: “We must do all that we can to close the gap between the Israelis and the Palestinians.” The Syrians believed him and showed enthusiasm towards what came to be known as the Madrid Peace Conference. The Israelis, led at the time by Yitzhak Shamir, did not. They were distracted by an international conference, co-sponsored by the U.S.S.R., which would bring them face-to-face with all of the Arab countries.
Seven days later, Bush sent his Secretary of State James Baker to meet President Hafez al-Assad in Damascus. Before the meeting, U.S. Ambassador to Syria Edward Djerjian advised, “Nobody can predict how long this meeting’s going to last. So be careful how much you drink. Assad will not leave the room. If you drink too much, the forces of nature will overcome you!”
After the meeting, Baker told the U.S. President, “Assad gave me the clear impression that he is serious about pursuing peace, but that he will be a tough nut to crack!” Assad told his American guest: “A peace conference should not be convened just once and then disappear. The conference should be re-convened whenever necessary.” Assad insisted that the U.N. co-sponsor the event, but Baker replied, “Mr. President, the Israelis will not accept the United Nations—they hate the United Nations.” Baker promised a U.S. guarantee to get the Israelis to withdraw from the Golan. The Syrians went along with that—and the rest is history. …..
The Syrians were, and still are, unimpressed by the Israeli conditions for peace, which included halting Syria's cooperation with Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran.
All of these recent events help explain why the Syrians are worried as they head off to Annapolis. Countries interested in peace don’t go around flying into their neighbor’s airspace without permission, especially when the two countries are in a state of war. They don’t fire missiles into other countries’ territory. The last time I checked, this was called ‘war-making’ rather than ‘peace-making.’ But despite all that, the Syrians have been committed to peace since Madrid and are willing to try Annapolis. But it’s doubtful that Annapolis will lead to a breakthrough, with George W. Bush in the White House, and Ehud Olmert in power in Tel Aviv.
The real goal at Annapolis
Mohamad Bazzi, Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow
November 27, 2007
Christian Science Monitor
NEW YORK – This week's Mideast summit in Annapolis, Md., is bound to fail – unless the Bush administration makes sure that the gathering leads to renewed Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations. That could be the first step to ending Syria's isolation and giving its renegade regime fresh incentive to reform. …
The Annapolis summit is a crucial opportunity to woo Syria away from its increasing reliance on Iran and North Korea. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad can actually deliver on a peace deal with Israel – unlike the weak Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, who lost control of the Gaza Strip to the militant group Hamas in June. The Israeli-Syrian peace track can move faster than Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, where the two sides are still far apart on the central issues: Israeli settlements, the fate of Palestinian refugees, and the final status of Jerusalem. ….
Syria's leaders have consistently said that full peace is possible, but only if they recover all of the Golan. In 2000, President Bill Clinton led marathon talks between Assad's father, Hafez, and then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Those discussions collapsed over a sliver of land that would have given Syria access to the Sea of Galilee, a major source of water for Israel. To reach a final settlement, the US must push Israel and Syria back to negotiations – without preconditions. ….
Mohamad Bazzi, who was Newsday's Middle East bureau chief for four years, is the Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Condi's Road to Damascus | 11/27
GLOBAL VIEW By BRET STEPHENS Wall Street Journal
Remember Nancy Pelosi's spring break in Damascus? Condoleezza Rice apparently does not. When the House Speaker paid Syrian strongman Bashar Assad a call back in April, President Bush denounced her for sending "mixed signals" that "lead the Assad government to believe they are part of the mainstream of the international community, when in fact they are a state sponsor of terror." Today, said sponsor of terror will take its place at the table Ms. Rice has set for the Middle Eastern conference at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
Only at Foggy Bottom would Syria's last-minute decision to go to Annapolis be considered a diplomatic triumph. The meeting is supposed to inaugurate the resumption of high-level negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, with a view toward finalizing a deal on Palestinian statehood before the administration leaves office. On a deeper plane of geopolitical subtlety, it is supposed to bring Israel and the Arab world together in tacit alliance against Iran.
This raises three significant questions. First, how does Syria's presence at Annapolis affect those goals? Next, how does Syria's presence affect U.S. policy toward Syria? And what effect, if any, will all this have on Syria's behavior in the region?
Much is being made of the fact that, in accepting the administration's invitation, Syria apparently reversed a previous decision, coordinated with Iran, to boycott the conference. This plays into the view that Syria can be persuaded to abandon its 25-year-old ties to Iran and return to the Arab fold, thereby severing the encircling chain that links Tehran to Damascus to southern Lebanon to the Gaza Strip. High-profile ridicule of the conference by Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (who called it "useless") and spokesmen for Hezbollah and Hamas add to the impression that Mr. Assad may be prepared to chart an independent course — all for the modest price of the U.S. agreeing (with Israel's consent) to put the issue of the Golan Heights on the conference's agenda.
It really would be something if the Syrian delegation could find their own road to Damascus on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. But that would require something approximating good faith. The Syrians' decision to be represented at Annapolis by their deputy foreign minister — his bosses evidently having more important things to do — is one indication of the lack of it. So is the Assad regime's declaration (via an editorial in state newspaper Teshreen) that their goal at Annapolis is "to foil [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert's plan to force Arab countries to recognize Israel as a Jewish state." And lest the point hadn't been driven home forcefully enough, the Syrian information minister told Al Jazeera that Syria's attendance would have no effect on its relations with Iran or its role as host to the leadership of Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups.
At best, then, Syria will attend Annapolis as a kind of non-malignant observer, lending a gloss of pan-Arab seriousness to the proceedings. At worst, it will be there as a spoiler and unofficial spokesman of Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. If it's clever, it will adopt a policy of studied ambivalence, with just enough positive chemistry to induce the administration into believing it might yet be prepared for a real volte face, provided the U.S. is also prepared to rewrite its Syria policy. Recent attestations by Gen. David Petraeus, that Damascus is finally policing its border with Iraq to slow the infiltration of jihadis, suggest that's just the game they mean to play.
What price will the U.S. be asked to pay? Contrary to popular belief, recovering the Golan is neither Syria's single nor primary goal; if anything, the regime derives much of its domestic legitimacy by keeping this grievance alive. What's urgently important to Damascus is that the U.N. tribunal investigating the 2005 murder of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri be derailed, before the extensive evidence implicating Mr. Assad and his cronies becomes a binding legal verdict. No less important to Mr. Assad is that his grip on Lebanese politics be maintained by the selection of a pliant president to replace his former puppet, Emile Lahoud. Syria would also like to resume normal diplomatic relations with the U.S. (which withdrew its ambassador from Damascus after Hariri's killing), not least by the lifting of economic sanctions imposed by the 2003 Syria Accountability Act.
No doubt the Syrians believe the U.S. can deliver on these items: Dictators rarely appreciate the constraints under which democratic governments operate. Yet there is no credible way the U.S. can deliver on the first demand, and only discreditable ways in which it could deliver on the second. The administration may be tempted to re-establish normal diplomatic relations and ease sanctions, which is about as much as it can do. Yet Damascus would view these concessions either as signs of niggardliness or desperation, and hold out for more.
Put simply, there is nothing the U.S. can offer Mr. Assad that would seriously tempt him to alter his behavior in ways that could meaningfully advance U.S. interests or the cause of Mideast peace. Yet the fact that Ms. Rice's Syria policy is now a facsimile of Speaker Pelosi's confirms Mr. Assad's long-held view that he has nothing serious to fear from this administration.
So look out for more aggressive Syrian misbehavior in Lebanon, including the continued arming of Hezbollah; the paralysis of its political process; the assassination of anti-Syrian parliamentarians and journalists; the insertion of Sunni terrorist cells in Palestinian refugee camps, and the outright seizure of Lebanon's eastern hinterlands. Look out, too, for continued cooperation with North Korea on WMD projects: Despite Israel's September attack on an apparent nuclear facility, the AP reports that North Korean technicians are back in Syria, teaching their Arab pupils how to load chemical warheads on ballistic missiles. And don't hold your breath expecting Syria's good behavior on its Iraqi frontier to last much longer.
In the meantime, we have the Annapolis conference, and the one-day photo-op it provides Ms. Rice. In the spirit of giving credit where it's due, the least the Secretary can do is invite the Speaker to the party.