Since the parties that plan to attend the Annapolis conference disagree on priorities and even the details, the agenda will be set according to American President George Bush's wishes. But the President, who is sending out invitations as we speak, will be compelled put something on the table to appeal to all parties that attend.
Syria will want to raise outstanding issues with Israel such as the Golan Heights, Lebanon and our issue [the issue of the Palestinians], with all of its ramifications. The other Arab states are being asked to support the upcoming negotiations and show added flexibility with Israel, taking into account the future rather than the past. That's because Israel didn’t fulfill the conditions of the Arab peace initiative , which in any case didn’t really offer a way of resolving the dispute. In practice the Arab initiative was merely a preamble for the roadmap which calls on Israel to freeze new settlement activity and evacuate some of the more controversial settlement sites. The question is, who will supervise the execution of this initiative - and what authority will enforce it?
At Annapolis, it will be on the American administration's shoulders to respond on issues of concern to Arabs, but without angering the Israelis - since it's been clear that from the outset satisfying Tel Aviv has been America's chief concern.
Responding to the U.S. press, the Americans feel pressured by Israeli justifications - and swallow them. Even the Palestinian side tries to swallow them. But up to now the Palestinian side hasn't been allowed a single meal. Israel only serves appetizers, hoping Palestinians won't ask to discuss details on final status if it releases [Palestinian] prisoners and announces a freeze on new settlements.
[Editor's Note: Final status refers to an agreement that will address the issues of Palestinian rights to their land, to Jerusalem as their capital and the disposition of Palestinian refugees forced to flee Israel since the Jewish State gained independence].
In any case, we've seen all this before. Israel is dancing the waltz of peace at Annapolis because it doesn’t want to kindle the fuse leading to the key hot-button issue: final settlement talks.
But Israel’s preference for appetizers won't satiate Palestinian hunger, because Palestinians are demanding a decisive decision this time: peace or no peace. Palestinians won't wait years or decades more, since the situation in the region will in all likelihood deteriorate, and the first to pay the price for the continuing disorder will be the Americans, who are already being put to the test.