The Annapolis peace summit is just days old, but already it is having an adverse impact on Israel’s security.
In agreeing to move toward a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians, Israeli negotiators have left the Jewish state between a rock and hard place. On the one hand, they must attempt to build momentum in the peace process. At the same time, they must brace for a series of terror attacks and attempts to sabotage the peace process.
In keeping with commitments made at the summit, Israel is aborting a military operation in the Gaza Strip. Meant to undermine the Hamas regime, it is now being pushed off, apparently to an unknown date, so that peace talks can begin on December 12. Israelis who were sure that after Annapolis they would be free of constraint and could act in the Gaza Strip against almost daily rocket attacks have been proven wrong. The residents of Sderot in the Western Negev, who had believed that Israeli Defense Forces would put an end to the daily terror of mortar fire, will be be disappointed. Meanwhile, the Salah a-Din Brigades, the military wing of Islamic Jihad, announced on Tuesday that they are beginning a series of terror actions that will be called "autumn storms," which will include rocket and mortar shell fire at Israeli residents, as a direct response to Annapolis.
Unsurprisingly, Israel’s security establishment is disappointed with the outcome of the summit. One thing all the security officials agree on is that, in Annapolis, Israel closed a deal with a Palestinian partner that cannot deliver. They point out that the Palestinian Authority (PA), headed by Mahmoud Abbas, is linked to two life-support machines. The first stems from the international legitimacy that it derives from its dubious reputation as the “moderate” alternative to the extremism of Hamas. The second concerns the Israeli monopoly on security in the West Bank, which makes it possible for the PA to survive. It was no coincidence that in the talks that preceded Annapolis, the Palestinian demands were limited to asking that Israel remove some roadblocks, allow some Fatah men wanted by Israeli security to go free, and provide some weapons and armored vehicles. They know that once Israeli force is removed, the PA dies.
Americans know it, too. To help build the Palestinian power base, the Americans plan to establish a steering committee headed by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, U.S. General Keith Dayton, and a political envoy of President Bush. The committee will supervise the establishment of security, governmental, and economic institutions of the PA to monitor the implementation of the first stage of the so-called “road map.” In this stage, the PA is supposed to take action against terror.
For that to happen, Americans will have to invest a great deal of money and time before there is a possibility of seeing a loyal and effective PA military force. Israel’s security establishment believes that it will take at least one to two years before PA forces can handle opposition on the ground. Any attempt to speed up the process and to give the PA security responsibility too early, say high-ranking security sources, will bring the turmoil of Gaza to the West Bank -- that is, empower Hamas and provide it with a new platform from which to target Israel.
Security is not the only concern raised by the Annapolis summit. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in a joint statement he made with President Bush and Abbas, reversed positions that the government of Israel held only two months ago. For instance, Olmert backed off from his opposition to any timetable for negotiations. Now there is a date for the start of negotiations -- December 12 -- and a date for their completion, the end of 2008. In the current situation, Olmert will find it difficult to say that "there are no sacred dates." In effect, he has endorsed the time schedule.
Olmert also retreated from his earlier demand, based on the road map, that a peace agreement can be implemented only after the Palestinians fight terror. Even as Palestinian terrorism continues, he has consented to a dialogue and a target date for the establishment of a Palestinian state. The Annapolis conference has thus undermined Ariel Sharon's sole achievement since the road map, namely, making Israeli steps contingent upon Palestinian action against terrorist organizations. Instead, Israel heard a dictate from President Bush: Israel must "remove illegal settlement outposts and halt illegal construction.“ (Bush did not mention his April 2004 letter to Israel's previous Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, in which Bush agreed to recognize settlement blocs or the reality that has changed since 1967.) Israel has thus committed itself to a freeze on expanding Jewish communities in the West Bank, while gaining no assurance that Palestinians will live up to their end of the bargain by suppressing terrorism.
In yet another concession, Olmert stood down from his opposition to international supervision of the agreement's implementation. Nothing remains of the principle established by Yitzhak Rabin, which was maintained by all Israeli prime ministers, that only Israel would decide whether the Palestinian side had met its commitments. In the joint statement, it was stated explicitly that the U.S. would supervise the implementation of the road map’s clauses and would judge and supervise the implementation of the clauses on the part of Israel and the Palestinians. The meaning of the statement is that Israel will be under close supervision by the U.S. to carry out irreversible concessions, while the Palestinians will not.
Perhaps most significant, Olmert seems to have withdrawn the ultimatum that he issued only three weeks ago. In it, he said that he would never agree to any document that would not recognize Israel, first and foremost, as a Jewish state. But the fact that the Palestinians failed to recognize Israel at Annapolis -- and openly stated their refusal to do so prior to the summit -- did not stop Olmert from lending his name to the joint statement.
There were some bright spots in Annapolis. On Tuesday, Olmert held a confidential meeting with President Bush in which they discussed the threat of Iran. Although Israel and the U.S. have disagreed over the “point of no return,” after which Iran will possess the technology to produce a first nuclear bomb, the meeting between Bush and Olmert suggests that the U.S. is taking Israeli concerns seriously. Bush and Olmert were also expected to talk about Syria. According to an Israeli political official: "President Bush is totally in accord with the prime minister on the Syrian issue, and there is no pressure on Israel to resume negotiations on the Golan Heights."