Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pawns and white knights at Annapolis

Talk about seeing the world in black and white: maybe we all are waiting for a white knight. No stranger to intrigue, Rupert Cornwell, brother of spy novelist John Le Carre and longtime Washington correspondent for the London Independent, describes the scene in Annapolis in terms of a chess game:

For this correspondent, operating along with 1,000 of his colleagues in the Academy's basketball arena turned media centre, the atmosphere resembled the press room at a world chess championship game.

Old grandmasters of Middle East strategising, such as Martin Indyk, the former US ambassador to Israel, wandered the aisles, giving their assessment of the latest position on the board, and working through the likely next moves of the two adversaries.

And one thing's for sure. In this particular game, there are many, many moves to come, even if the sceptics are already predicting that the outcome will be one more stalemate to add to the others of the past 60 years.

Adds Robert Fisk, also of the Independent
Yes of course, we all want an end to bloodshed in the Middle East but the Americans are going to need Syria and Iran to support this – or at least Syrian support to control Hamas – and what do we get? Bush continues to threaten Iran and Bush tells Syria in Annapolis that it must keep clear of Lebanese elections, or else...

Yes, Hizbollah is a surrogate of Iran and is playing a leading role in the opposition to the government of Lebanon. Do Bush and Condoleezza Rice (or Abbas or Olmert for that matter) really think they're going to have a free ride for a year without the full involvement of every party in the region? More than half of the Palestinians under occupation are under the control of Hamas.

Reading the speeches – especially the joint document – it seems like an exercise in self-delusion. The Middle East is currently a hell disaster and the President of the United States thinks he is going to produce the crown jewels from a cabinet and forget Afghanistan and Iraq and Iran – and Pakistan, for that matter. The worst element of the whole Annapolis shindig is that once again millions of people across the Middle East – Muslims, Jews and Christians – will believe all this and will then turn – after its failure – with fury on their antagonists for breaking these agreements.

For more than two years, the Saudis have been offering Israel security and recognition by Arab states in return for a total withdrawal of Israeli forces from the occupied territories. What was wrong with that? Mr Olmert promised that "negotiations will address all the issues which thus far has been evaded". Yet the phrase "withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territories" simply doesn't exist in the text.

Like most people who live in the Middle East, I would like to enjoy these dreams and believe they are true. But they are not. Wait for the end of 2008.

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