11/26/2007, 00.00
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High tensions, cautious expectations for Annapolis Conference

Many bilateral meetings are taking place. Syria’s presence and divisions within Hamas are signs of Iran’s isolation, now only backed by Hizbollah. Israel’s stand continues to raise doubts about the meeting’s success.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Last minute talks are multiplying before the official opening of the Annapolis peace conference as US President George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice continuing their meetings with Israeli and Palestinian representatives. Even though there is much tension in the air as people wait for the conference to start, expectations remain low. An attempt by Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmad Qurei failed to reach a joint statement.

On the eve of the start of the conference the United States positively views the fact that Iran is isolated. Syria’s decision to take part in the negotiations has left Tehran alone, except for the support of Lebanon’s Hizbollah. Even within Hamas positions are nuanced.

Through its spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, the Palestinian Islamist movement announced that “people believe that this conference is fruitless and that any recommendations or commitments made in the conference that harm our rights will not be binding for our people.”

Hamas leaders closer to former Prime Minister Ismayl Haniye are however critical of this view and are more open to contacts with Israel and better relations with the United States.

For its part, Hizbollah’s TV station, al-Manar, gave opponents of the conference free rein, starting with Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who said the Annapolis conference would bring nothing good to the Palestinians and only help Israel.

His remarks echo those uttered by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadejad who yesterday said that participation in the meeting is a sign of political ignorance on part of some politicians who would not be well remembered in history.

By contrast, Damascus is taking a different stance from Tehran. Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem was quoted by SANA, Syria’s news agency, in an interview with al-Jazeera that Annapolis could be “an opportunity for peace if the Arabs committed to the Arab peace initiative and backed the Palestinian people.”

SANA writes that the “meeting may constitute a step forward if the Arabs show commitment to a unified stance regarding the Arab peace initiative, Madrid Conference References and the Land-For-Peace principle” which for Damascus means the return of the Golan Heights.

Al-Quds Al-Arabi, a Palestinian newspaper published in London, said that Saudi pressures on Washington secured Syria’s participation, adding that other Arab states saw the conference favourably out of fear of what extremists might do in the Arab street.

In Israel, Yedioth Ahronoth highlighted the views of people close to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. If Nabil Shaath is somewhat hopeful, Nabil Abu Rdeneh doubts that any real progress can be made so long as Israel is internally divided, a clear reference to statements made by Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu who slammed the government's decision making process prior to the Annapolis peace conference, calling it “political blindness.”

“Everybody wants peace,” he added, “but we want a real peace and that requires insisting on the safety of Israeli citizens and insisting on reciprocity.”(PD)

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