11/28/2007, 00.00
MIDDLE EAST – UNITED STATES
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Promises and hopes in Annapolis, waiting for facts

First reactions to Bush’s conference are positive. Negative reactions by Iran and Hamas were expected. Israelis and Palestinians talk about an opportunity that should not be wasted, pledge their commitment to continue.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – At the end of conference in Annapolis organised by US President George W. Bush, Israeli and Palestinian leaders committed themselves to a negotiated peace by the end of next year. Their agreement however stopped short of a joint outline (which Israel refused to endorse). Should peace between the two materialise it would open the door to a broader peace between Israel and the Arab world.

The three main players, President Bush, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called the meeting an historic occasion and said they would commit all their strength to achieve a peace accord.

With ironic defeatism, al-Jazeera's senior political analyst Marwan Bishara said: “I've heard from three other gentlemen—President Clinton, Chairman Arafat as well as Prime Minister Rabin—the same speeches, exactly the same way, 14 years ago with, presumably, the very same determination.

Except for its bluntness, Hamas said the same thing, dismissing the agreement as mere words.

For Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Annapolis will not bring anything good to the Palestinians and will only help the Israel.

For Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, “we have this opportunity now. I hope we are not going to waste it.

Similarly, for Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Marc Regev, “the real challenge is what happens in the weeks and the months ahead because if Annapolis is only nice words that will be a tragedy.

But the greater obstacles to fulfilling the promises of Annapolis are likely to come from Israel. Indeed in making his solemn pledge Prime Minister Olmert said he did not know whether a year was enough to achieve the stated goals.

For his part President Bush assessed positively the agreement and committed his country to closely follow the steps on the path to peace.

The 16 Arab countries that took part in the conference, most of whom have no diplomatic relations with Israel, remained in the background. But their presence assured the seriousness of the Palestinian commitment and demonstrated their own interest in the continuation of the peace process.

In the balance is not only the future of the Palestinian people, but also the balance of power with the Shia world led by Iran.

Likewise Syria’s interest in getting back the Golan Heights is at stake as is its desire to break its current isolation caused by its alliance with Iran and its ostensible role in recent political assassinations in Lebanon.

If Syria ceases to be closely aligned with Iran prospects for peace in the whole Middle East might improve.

A first test case may in fact come from Beirut if Lebanon’s presidential impasse finds a resolution. (PD)

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