Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her oft-time nemesis, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, proudly joined hands Tuesday, co-sponsoring a seminal new UN Security Council resolution meant to enshrine in international law President Bush’s Palestinian-Israeli diplomacy.
This resolution may be good for Mr. Bush’s legacy, making the process he launched at Annapolis last year a cornerstone of Middle East peacemaking for years to come. Then again, it could shackle incoming American, Palestinian and Israeli leaders, who may be less enamored of Annapolis.
Annapolis’s only tangible accomplishment was in providing the necessary crutches that allowed a weak and isolated Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to stay in power. It is unclear however how long Mr. Abbas can be propped up. His leadership faces strong opposition from Hamas; from an ever more restless generation of wannabe leaders in his own Fatah party; and - at the age of 73 - from the natural aging process.
Benjamin Netanyahu, who has left other prime ministerial hopefuls far behind in opinion polls that tally the public’s mood on the eve of Israel’s February election, publicly pooh-poohs the Annapolis process.
Although President-Elect Obama has not explicitly opposed Annapolis, he has promised a much more aggressive and intrusive diplomacy than Mr. Bush’s. This may sound ominous for Israel but aides say Mr. Obama liked some ideas Mr. Netanyahu had presented to him during a meeting in Israel last summer. Contrary to perceived wisdom officials in both camps told me after the meeting that these two men may work well together.
“Bibi wants to continue the diplomatic negotiations with the Palestinians, but not in the failed framework of Annapolis,” said Mr. Netanyahu’s long-time world affairs adviser, Zalman Shoval. Core issues as Annapolis envisions - borders, Jerusalem, refugees - cannot be resolved now, he said. Even if an agreement is struck, it is doubtful that the current Palestinian leadership can deliver on its provisions. Instead, Mr. Netanyahu wants to help the Palestinian economy grow, and assist in building the governing tools necessary for future peace making.
However, during an emergency security council session Saturday, the outgoing American UN ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and his Russian colleague, Vitaly Churkin, were oblivious to such plans. The newly found amity between the two partners seeking peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians seemed weird to anyone familiar with the way Moscow and Washington have clashed on virtually everything throughout their tenures.
American administrations have traditionally sided with Israel’s wariness of Security Council’s meddling. The Council tends to harden everyone’s positions and, like all kitchens employing too many cooks, its dishes often spoil. But now this has changed as Mr. Bush - who has wisely eschewed international clichÃ©s throughout his first term - is tackling The Legacy Thing.
Although this new resolution stresses the bilateral principle, it also expresses support for convening a multi-party peace summit next year in pro-Arab Moscow. It also calls on all countries to support only Palestinian leadership (read: Mr. Abbas) that is “committed to the Quartet principles and the Arab Peace Initiative.” The quartet of America, Russia, the European Union and the UN is meant to give an international umbrella to American-led diplomacy, but its “principles” are fuzzy at best. Initiated by the Saudis, the “Arab Peace Initiative” is slightly more detailed, but is only partially accepted even by Israel’s peaceniks.
Appearing at a UN conference last month, the dovish Israeli president, Shimon Peres, praised the Saudi King Abdullah for initiating the plan. But Prince Saud al Faisal, Riyadh’s foreign minister, did not return the favor. He noted that Mr. Peres had identified only some parts of the plan in his UN speech and left others unmentioned. The Israeli president forgot to praise the idea of flooding the Jewish state with nearly 5 million descendants of Arabs who have fled or were forced out of British-ruled Palestine in 1948. Or making Jerusalem the capital of Arab Palestine. The Arab plan is a “package deal” with no room for negotiation, Mr. Abdullah said.
It is an “ultimatum,” Mr. Shoval agreed. “If you really want to achieve peace, rather than merely beat up on Israel,” the Arab plan’s approach is unacceptable, he said.
Unnamed Jerusalem officials told Haaretz that the new resolution will likely force Mr. Netanyahu to commit to Annapolis. “I am not going to get into Israeli politics,” Ms. Rice said during a Monday press conference, when asked about Mr. Netanyahu’s opposition. Nevertheless, she argued, “It is really only possible to get to peace through dealing with all the core issues” up front.
Perhaps, but Annapolis has not to date achieved so much success that no other approach should even be tried. And so, unless the current foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, wins the election, Mr. Netanyahu’s Israel will likely ignore the council resolution and concentrate on alternative plans instead. Mr. Obama may want to map his own strategy as well. Annapolis will then become yet another forgotten peace initiative. Either way, the council’s new resolution will provide the Arab world and its supporters with new ammunition to endlessly denounce Israel’s failure to abide by international law. Peacemaking will hardly be advanced.
Benny Avni is a UN-based journalist.