Ahmed Yussuf, political adviser to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh: Abbas did not have a mandate to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinian people

Nir Boms and Elliot Chodoff (11/28/2007)

Leaders from around the world are converging on Annapolis, but the parties are still busy debating both format and content. However, when the wagon appears to be ready, the horses seem to be more willing to step forward as well. Syria is now willing to attend and  even Hamas – until recently busy combating Fatah forces – would have liked to add its horse to the cart. Ahmed Yussuf, political adviser to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, announced last week that if Hamas was invited to the Annapolis conference, “it would think about joining and it can detour around its constitution.”

Bringing all the Mid-East players -including the most hostile ones – around the table may be considered a US victory, and this alone may convince the President and the Secretary of State to follow that route. However, such a decision may easily backfire, especially considering the declared agendas of both Syria and Hamas. Syria wants the Golan issue on the table and sees no other purpose to participate in the conference as Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah al-Dardari stated last week. When asked whether the conference could achieve any kind of peace deal without Syria, Dardari said: “Definitely not…No peace without Syria in the Middle East

Hamas, on the other hand, did not stipulate any actions it would take if not invited. However, it made its views clear regarding the desired objectives of the Annapolis process: according to Yussuf, his organization is interested not in a peace process but rather a long-term cease-fire. A cease fire, no matter how long term in design, is not an appropriate objective for a peace conference. Yussuf further added that PA President Mahmoud Abbas did not have a mandate to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinian people, setting the stage for a Hamas rejection of any agreement.

Conditions of this type are indeed a recipe for failure. David Trimble – former leader of the Ulster Unionist party in Northern Ireland – recently related a similar case in point. In 1972 a high- ranking IRA delegation – including both Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness – was secretly flown to London for talks with the then Northern Ireland secretary. The parties were invited to that dialogue only a few days after a flimsy and temporary ceasefire had gone into effect. The IRA- seeing the invitation as a sign of British weakness – stepped up its violent campaign, and for some years thereafter believed that one “last push” would elicit even greater concessions from the British. Loyalists saw the meeting as an indication of a waning British commitment to maintaining Northern Ireland’s position within the UK and increased their violence as well. Thus, negotiations intended to bring peace merely deepened uncertainty, raised expectations, and generated new levels of violence. “If there is one lesson to learn from the Northern Ireland experience” wrote Trimble in a peace that was dedicated to the Annapolis conference, “it is that preconditions are crucial in ending violence and producing a settlement.”

Seven years ago a similar Mid East conference failed to fulfill its expectations and led to a similar collapse. Consequently, the lessons of both attempts at peace should be seriously studied and internalized.

Commentators point animatedly to the elephant in the room – Hamas – that will certainly not be in Annapolis. Nothing can be achieved, they argue, if the most extremist elements are not present at the negotiating table. However, just as the preconditions for engagement were clear for the IRA in the early 1990s, they must be made clear for Hamas today – renounce violence, recognize Israel, and accept the terms of previous peace agreements. Hamas must be encouraged to take the same sort of steps the IRA took towards the negotiating table. But this goal will be undermined if Hamas feels it does so on its terms and continues to reject a compromise solution.

We may hope for agreement from all the parties at Annapolis. But agreement will mean an accommodation, not a victory of one side over another, and certainly not the annihilation of the “other”. Where does Hamas stand on these matters? Will it accept a two-state solution? Will it end violence? These are reasonable questions to ask. Hamas’ failure to satisfactorily reply illustrates that it would be wrong to try to include it.

The Annapolis Conference can set itself as an important watershed in the paths of the factions amongst both sides in the Arab-Israeli Conflict. One route aspires for peace and is prepared to absorb the costs of reaching a comprehensive agreement. The other aspires for victory and is willing to use any method, whether apparently peaceful or blatantly violent, to further its objectives. Secretary Rice should keep this thought in mind as she welcomes her honored, if not all honorable, guests..

Nir Boms is the vice president of the Center for Freedom in the Middle East. Elliot Chodoff is a military and political analyst for MidEast-On Target.


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