As presidents before him, George W Bush has decided to take a crack at the West Asia problem as his administration draws to a close. The Annapolis meet between the Palestinians and Israelis, the brainchild of US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, was to carry the defunct peace process forward and forge a deal next year to create a Palestinian State in Gaza and the West Bank. Will this actually happen? Not likely. There is a sense of déjà vu about the meet. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said he would not carry out any peace deal with the Palestinians unless President Mahmoud Abbas reins in the militants including the Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since June. This is something a beleaguered Abbas is not in a position to deliver. His Fatah is considerably weakened by both corruption and its inability to improve living conditions for Palestinians. This has led to many supporting the Islamist Hamas. So, in effect, the Annapolis meet will yield little that Mr Bush can claim as his legacy to world peace.
The issue of Israel’s security is something the American administration has made clear it will not compromise on. With Hamas growing in strength, no one can guarantee Israel’s security, least of all Mr Abbas. Mr Bush’s proposal to give $ 190 million to bolster Fatah’s security machinery and enable it to take on Hamas too may backfire. Given the tensions between the two sides, this could well create civil war conditions and make ‘peace’ near impossible.
The only thing that can work is to engage Hamas which neither Israel nor the US are willing to do. In fact, the two have prevailed on Mr Abbas to refrain from any contact with Hamas until it gives up control of Gaza. This is unrealistic. The best bet would be to call for fresh elections in Gaza and West Bank with the proviso that whoever wins fair and square will be the negotiating partner. The outcome may not be to the liking of Israel and the US but then, there are very options left. Now that Annapolis has produced no tangible results, the peace process will be put on hold until a new administration comes into place in the US.