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Friday, November 23, 2007

Israeli left silent on Annapolis

Left gets left behind on road to Annapolis

Sheera Claire Frenkel , THE JERUSALEM POST  Nov. 22, 2007
Among the representatives expected to sound their voices at the Annapolis peace summit next week are officials from the European Union, United Nations, and dozens of Middle Eastern states. While the participation of several key players - including Saudi Arabia and Syria - remains in question, there is one voice that has remained notably silent.
The Israeli left-wing parties - Labor, Meretz, and the Arab parties - have been unable to organize as a significant lobbying voice, said Knesset members Thursday, who added that the silence has left Prime Minister Ehud Olmert free to orchestrate Annapolis as he sees fit.
"Instead of being a real step forward for the peace process, Annapolis has become a conference on the status quo," said MK Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor). "Annapolis has been watered down of any real issues."
Paz-Pines, who was a member of the Labor Party when then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak took part in the 2000 Camp David summit, said that the left wing "lost its wind" after the breakdown of the talks and the second intifada.
Annapolis, he added, doesn't seem to have enough muscle to revive it.
"I'm really not sure that there is a left in Israel today - or a peace camp for that matter," said Paz-Pines. "There has been a freeze for seven years, since Camp David. When there is no peace process there is no peace camp."
Paz-Pines said that while he hoped that Annapolis would renew the Israeli public's interest in the peace process, he remained doubtful that any type of formal agreement would be forged there.
The sentiment that Annapolis is being conducted 'for the sake of a photo shoot and a handshake' has grown stronger in recent weeks as Israelis and Palestinians have failed to reach even a preliminary agreement on the declaration meant to kick-off the summit.
According to a draft version of the document published Thursday, several significant rifts loom over the terms of the peace process - including the timeline for its implementation. Overall, the Israeli side is pushing for the summit to remain open-ended, while the Palestinians want assurances of specific issues to be discussed.
"The closer that we have gotten to Annapolis, the more clear it has become that this is not a serious peace effort. Clinton, Geneva, Oslo, have already established the same issues they are going to Annapolis to discuss. Nothing has been implemented," said MK Zehava Gal-On (Meretz). "The Left is divided over how to treat Annapolis. Some want to ignore it by not going, others are simply scowling from afar."
An upcoming party leadership race is complicating matters for Meretz, which as the most left-wing party in the Knesset has traditionally driven the peacenik agenda.
"Meretz Party members are already thinking about the leadership race and are gearing their comments around it," said one senior Meretz member. "They don't want to come out strongly in favor of Annapolis in case it becomes a disaster and harms their chances in the election."
The Arab parties, meanwhile, have been feeling increasingly snubbed by the government. While previous prime ministers have used Arab lawmakers as go-betweens during peace negotiations, the Olmert government has experienced a tumultuous relationship with the Arab MKs.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni drew harsh criticism from Arab MKs with her comments last week that in a future two-state solution, Israeli Arabs might feel more at home in a Palestinian state than in their current homes.
"These comments were completely disrespectful and showed a complete lack of understanding for the Israeli Arab community," said MK Nadia Hilou (Labor). "At a time when the government is going to Annapolis for so-called peace talks, they make racist and hateful declarations towards the peaceful Arab groups living in their midst."
Hilou, who has frequently met with the Fatah leadership in the West Bank, said that she would have gladly assisted the government in the summit if she had been consulted.
"Instead of using their resources, they are ignoring us," she said. "We could be voices of support and assistance, and instead we are silent."

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