Verdict on Annapolis Israelis and Palestinians Pessimistic on Chances of Peace

Disappointment, pessimism, frustration. The participants in the Annapolis conference could only feel victorious for one evening -- then the disillusion set in. In a rare show of unity, Israeli and Arab newspapers have thrashed out at their political leaders.

By in Beirut

Optimism in Annapolis, skepticism in Israel and the Arab world.

Optimism in Annapolis, skepticism in Israel and the Arab world.

Israel's newspaper kiosks were decked out in white and blue, something usually reserved for Independence Day. But even if Israel's newspapers were also flying the country's colors on Wednesday, hardly any were in the mood for celebration one day after the Middle East conference concluded in Annapolis.

Sure, Yediot Ahronot, Israel's widest circulation daily, spoke of a "new beginning" -- but its analysis immediately crushed any hopes.

"Anyone unfamiliar with the Middle East would be forgiven for thinking that Tuesday's ceremonies were marking the signing of a permanent peace," wrote Nahum Barnea, one of Israel's best-known commentators. The opposite is true. According to Barnea, nothing less than "a miracle would be required" for a Palestinian state to be brought into being by the end of 2008. There are too many difficulties to be cleared out of the way before this kind of "express peace" would be realistic.

The newspaper's military expert is just as pessimistic. Prime Minster Ehud Olmert has maneuvered the Israeli army into a predicament. At a time when it is facing a tough militia enemy in Hamas, it is supposed to use restraint. That is "an almost unbearable situation."

This, however, sounds like resounding praise compared to the reaction of Maariv, the country's second-biggest mass circulation paper. "Peace agreed for the cameras," writes Ben Caspit in his editorial. He caustically describes the joint statement between Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as a successful marketing coup by Olmert -- arranged only so that the beleaguered premier could hold on to power until the end of next year.

"Olmert is the true winner," writes Caspit. The big losers are Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the peace movement. "Barak knows that the chances for a peace treaty in a year are as great as Olmert being elected US president next November." The great expectations that US President George W. Bush has stirred up will only be disappointed, Caspit writes, "and then we will experience a profound disaster."

The London-based pan-Arab daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi also predicts calamity. "The rude awakening is yet to come," says their editorial. The Annapolis conference did not address the really urgent problems. That will come back to haunt the participants, the paper writes: "The only success at Annapolis is that the conference took place."

After all the mistakes and crimes that Bush committed in Iraq, Annapolis is an attempt to improve his image in the Arab and Muslim world, according to the newspaper. This is to build an Arab-Israeli front to attack Iran, the paper claims.

The London paper says Olmert is coming home as a true winner. Although Israel has 300 nuclear warheads, is occupying another country and has imprisoned more than 11,000 Palestinians, Olmert has succeeded in selling the country as peaceful, the paper writes. There is also tough criticism of Abbas, however. He did and said nothing to counter this image, standing by as if Olmert were a friend who had made a small mistake, the newspaper writes.

Tishrin, the official organ of the Syrian government, also strikes a warning note: The talks in Annapolis were the last chance for the American government to prove its good intentions. Syria hopes now that in the summit's final hours it will "awaken the conscience of the US government," which will reassess its serious policy mistakes.

Only if the government is willing and resolved to work for peace will there be a substantial, overreaching peace -- and that is the only kind of peace that will last. The organizers of Annapolis have to understand that "this kind of opportunity won't be repeated," Tishrin warns.

One day after Annapolis, the mood in the Middle East's newspapers is subdued. The conclusion of most of the commentators is that Annapolis's turbo-charged approach to the peace process will cause more harm than good.

And few see much reason for hope. In the words of Yediot Ahronot: "Anyone who has lived through all the chapters of this difficult story since 1993 will look at the optimism in Annapolis and find it extremely difficult to be enthusiastic."


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