TEST
The Arab Peace Initiative and the Role of the Third Party
On November 28, 2007, the Palestine-Israel Journal (PIJ) held a roundtable discussion on the Arab Peace Initiative at the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem. The Palestinian participants were Ziad AbuZayyad, PIJ co-editor, attorney and former Palestinian Authority minister and member of the Palestinian Legislative Council; and Jamal Zakout, advisor to Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The Israeli participants were Prof. Elie Podeh, head of the Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies Department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; and Prof. Galia Golan of the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who is a member of Peace Now. The discussion was moderated by Haaretz senior commentator Danny Rubinstein and PIJ Co-Editor Hillel Schenker.

Schenker: Our next issue will be devoted to the Arab Peace Initiative and the role of the [third parties]. Since this roundtable is taking place a day after the Annapolis conference, obviously we will relate to it within the context of the Arab Peace Initiative and all of the regional countries who attended the conference.

Rubinstein: Is Palestinian public opinion happy with the results of Annapolis?

AbuZayyad: My general impression is that nobody is happy with Annapolis. Palestinian people are not dancing in the streets. We didn't see any concrete result come out of Annapolis. All that they achieved is the declaration that they will start negotiating. So this was nothing but a ceremonial meeting.

Zakout: First, my personal assessment is that after seven years of no real peace process, yesterday was a declaration of the [end] of ignoring the partners and the peace process. It declared that there is no other choice other than to sit at the table and face the future with real responsibility. I think that this is a good start, but we need more. The second point is the [avoidance] of mentioning the Arab Peace Initiative in the Joint Understanding statement. If the Israeli government tries to escape from the Arab demands for full peace and full normalization, they are trying to achieve peace without paying the price for it. Thirdly, I think that all the Palestinians, including those who demonstrated against Annapolis, will follow Abu Mazen if he really succeeds in putting together a peace plan that addresses the fears and worries of the Palestinian nation. The Palestinian people want to see something on the ground. You can have good speeches, but the people are still feeling real pain and they want to see that this pain and the occupation are in the process of being ended.

Rubinstein: Galia, maybe you can talk about the opposition in Israel.

Golan: There must have been something good happening yesterday, because the right-wing - and in particular the settlers - were very upset yesterday. It would seem to me that the right has interpreted [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert's speech as a real commitment to reach an agreement on all the points, including Jerusalem. It remains to be seen if that is really the proper interpretation, but certainly the right wing believes that that is what happened yesterday. Olmert's speech did cover everything and also had an emotional side. He talked about the refugees in a sympathetic way without saying anything about what he intends to do on the issue. The appearance of some kind of timetable was important. The statement committed to reaching an agreement by the end of 2008. This is not a real timetable, but it prevents this from being open-ended. The other important point is monitoring - which was missing from the Oslo Accords. At least here there seems to be some international monitoring of the negotiations to ensure they actually continue and move forward with the Road Map. But the most important thing was the show of support from the Arab world for [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] Abu Mazen and the Palestinian path of negotiation.

Rubinstein: Elie, we all agree that there is a lot of importance in what happened yesterday. Do you share this view?

Podeh: Yes. First of all, the Israeli reactions were hardly surprising. The left was very enthusiastic, the right was very antagonistic; generally these are predictable responses. Looking beyond that, I think that it can be a good starting point to resume the peace process that was stalled seven years ago. This is a very important development. The conference was also important for several reasons: After many years during which the agenda was fixed by other parties, primarily by radical forces, I think this is the first time in a long time that what we call "the moderate forces" - I prefer the term "core alliance" - are determining the facts on the ground and are starting something that can be continued. The fact that the Americans were able to draw Syria into the conference was also very important.
From the Israeli point of view, Olmert's speech was significant in several ways. First, this is the first time that an Israeli prime minister talked about the suffering of the other side openly and publicly. It's not the full acknowledgment that the Palestinian side wants to hear, but in many places he made a comparison between the Israelis and the Palestinians, as if they are equal sides to the same conflict. Secondly, Olmert made a very important comment about the Arab Peace Initiative. He said, "I value this initiative. I value its contribution. We will continue to refer to it within the course of the negotiations." He didn't accept it, but he said that he values and appreciates it.

Rubinstein: I was listening quite carefully to the speeches. And as Elie said, the Arab Peace Initiative was mentioned by Olmert in a very sympathetic way. Yet today I heard Nabil Abu Rudeineh say that the Palestinians believe Israel rejected the Arab Peace Initiative because the joint statement centers around the Road Map and not the Arab Peace Initiative.

AbuZayyad: If you listen carefully to [United States President George W.] Bush and to the joint statement, you will find that they are talking about all phases of the Road Map. When I hear someone saying that the state is more important than its borders, it brings me directly to the topic of provisional borders. This is something that we totally reject. If they speak about the first phase, there are commitments and obligations on both sides. To start talking again about the implementation of the three phases of the Road Map, even though it is well understood that the second and third phases are no longer applicable, makes me worried. The clear reference to Bush's letter of assurances to [former Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon means that the U.S. administration is still committed to these assurances which imply accepting de facto the changes Israel made on the ground in the occupied Palestinian territories including the Jewish settlements, the infrastructure and the exploitation of water and natural resources. This means legitimizing the annexation of parts of the West Bank to Israel, in contravention of international law, the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions and the UN Security Council resolutions.
There was a very strong demand from the Arab countries to start normalizing relations with Israel and not link that to the peace process. This is in contradiction with the Arab Peace Initiative and the traditional position of the Arab countries that the progress in normalization with Israel should proceed parallel to the progress in the peace process. The dismantlement of settlements and outposts which were built in the occupied Palestinian territories is envisaged by Arabs as the beginning of Israel's change in behavior and a sign of positive change. However, in Annapolis they were speaking about removing "unauthorized outposts" and stopping the "expansion" of the settlements. This is Israeli language. And this language is not conducive to any progress in making peace. For me all settlements are illegal.

Rubinstein: If you say something is illegal it means that the others are legal.

AbuZayyad: The source of legitimacy is not the decision of the Israeli government. The source of legitimacy for me is in the UN [Security Council] resolutions including 242 and 338, and the Fourth Geneva Convention which obliges Israel not to move its population and settle them in an occupied territory. Olmert rejected the Arab position in diplomatic language in his speech. All the Arab countries that participated in this meeting were betrayed and misled. The call to finish the negotiations by the end of 2008 is a target, not a deadline. Even this positive thing is not real.

Rubinstein: Do you also think that both sides ignored the Arab Peace Initiative?

Zakout: I think real change started yesterday. Instead of being stuck in security and only security, we now have a formula: security and political negotiations moving together. The issue of the Road Map was raised in previous meetings between the Israelis and the Palestinians, including with [U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice, where they discussed how to deal with the main issues that the Palestinian people are expecting to see on the ground: the settlements, the wall and the release of prisoners. Here two things have changed. There is a parallel implementation instead of conditional implementation. It was agreed that Israel would stop expanding settlements immediately, including natural growth, and we must not release Olmert from this commitment.
On the Arab Peace Initiative, I think that Olmert wants the Arab countries to normalize relations while ignoring the formula of the Initiative and the obligations that Israel must deal with. If Israel were to look at the Arab presence in Annapolis only as a sign of normalization, it would be misleading to everyone, including to the Israeli population. The Saudi Arabian minister of foreign affairs said very clearly: We will not normalize relations with Israel before the conclusion and implementation of a peace treaty.
Also, I think that Olmert trying to mention the Qassams and suicide bombings is an old tactic that must not be used in that way. It is another way to mislead the Israeli population. Attacks in Israel have been minimized since the "golden days" of the peace process. Secondly, the issue of Gaza is not in the hands of the PA. I personally am - as are many of the Palestinians, including the majority of Gazans - against using these rockets, which is harming the Palestinians more than anything else. We must differentiate between trying to achieve a ceasefire to stop the attacks that harm the negotiations, and using the rockets as an excuse not to go into the peace process. We need to build real trust to go ahead with the agenda of the negotiations. If Israel really wants to have normal relations with the Arab countries, I think the position of Israel toward the Arab Peace Initiative must be improved.

Golan: Much of Olmert's speech was for domestic consumption and not for the conference itself. Quite clearly the things he mentioned about Qassams were for domestic consumption. There is no way he could show a willingness to negotiate the core issues without also throwing a bone to the Israeli public and to the opposition. To me there is a contradiction in what preceded Annapolis and what seems to be happening. On the one hand, there is a commitment to deal with final status issues by the end of 2008. But on the other hand, they throw in the Road Map, in which the final status issues are supposed to come in the third phase, which includes another international conference. So when is the second phase, if there is a second phase, if indeed the third phase is happening now? Actually, it is a good idea to eliminate the second stage, but I am not certain that is what is intended. Actually, I am not happy at all with the Road Map being brought in, because it is perceived by Israel as a road map of sequential, not parallel, stages, and thus intended to delay - or should I say avoid - progress. It is important, however, that Annapolis established that demands will be parallel.
This brings me to the Arab Peace Initiative, which really has two components. One component deals with final status issues as a minimalist blueprint. It deals with the key issues only and this is the part that Israel has not accepted. There is no agreement on the part of the Israeli government yet to go to the June 4, 1967 lines, even with swaps, and there is no agreement on Jerusalem or the refugee question. In my opinion, the Israeli government should welcome the formula regarding refugees, which calls for a fair and agreed-upon solution. This gives Israel a say in the process. The part of the Arab Peace Initiative that Israel accepts, is, of course, the Arab commitment to normalization, the end of conflict and the security for Israel. These are the things all Israelis presumably would welcome, making the first part - withdrawal and so forth - well worthwhile.
Be that as it may, I think that I would have preferred not to have gone through any of this process since 2002. The Israeli government should have accepted the Arab Peace Initiative when it came out. But I am not entirely convinced that it has much relevance today. Now we have to see if negotiations will achieve an agreement with the Palestinians, at which point the Arab Peace Initiative would kick in again in the form of normalization. When it came out, it was an invitation for Israel to negotiate. Yet, now that Israel has finally decided to negotiate, and I hope that it has, there are still no assurances that these negotiations are going to be serious.

Podeh: I've followed the Arab Peace Initiative and the Israeli response to it since 2002 and my analysis tends to see Olmert's statement as more than just diplomatic language. If we analyze the Israeli attitude since 2002, you will see a gradual change in the Israeli position. The first Israeli reaction was silence. In the last year, we saw a few changes. Even Sharon said a few years ago that he saw a few positive elements in the Arab Peace Initiative, which Olmert repeated a few months ago. Then we have now what Olmert said in the conference. I think there is some evolution in the Israeli position. It is a reaction, at least partially, to what is happening in Israeli society. Israelis know today much more about the Arab Peace Initiative. The newspapers are talking and publishing information about it all the time. Olmert cannot escape from it and also understands the historic importance of that statement.
Why was the plan not mentioned in the formal statement? I am only guessing; I don't really know, but we do know that Israel is objecting to two or three points in the plan: The first one is the call for full Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines. No Israeli government since October or November 1967 has accepted the demand for full Israeli withdrawal. The second objection is to the clause regarding the refugee problem. Formally, Israel sees the clause as a reference to [UN General Assembly Resolution] 194 or to the full implementation of Palestinian return to Israel - which is not the case - but this is still the Israeli position.
The third point is that Palestinians treat the plan as "obligations or conditions." [Hebrew University political science professor] Shlomo Avineri published an article in Haaretz some time ago that talked about the unacceptability of the plan being presented as conditions. I rejected that because I thought of the Arab Peace Initiative as a plan to be negotiated, not as a condition. So in a way you, the Palestinians, affirm that we are talking actually about conditions, and if these conditions are not fully met, we have no bargain.

Zakout: We didn't say that. I think that the Palestinians are afraid that Israel will take from the Arab Peace Initiative only [the Arab countries' offer] to normalize relations, and then ignore and neglect the Palestinians.

Podeh: The Israeli government should not, and probably cannot, accept the plan as is, but it is a good basis for negotiations. First, there is a very major change in the Arab position toward Israel; and secondly, it can be a good basis for negotiations not only with the Palestinians, but also with the other Arab countries, because it relates also to the Syrian and Lebanese tracks. The fact that the Saudis are behind it means that we have the Arab League umbrella for this initiative, and so we have an important instrument that should be used in future negotiations.

Schenker: How important is the very existence of the Arab Peace Initiative? One of the explanations for the failure of Camp David in the summer of 2000 was the lack of Arab backing for the process. We should recall that the Arab Peace Initiative was only ratified in 2002.

Golan: I think we saw that the Arab presence in Annapolis was really an extension of the Arab Peace Initiative. There are other reasons that the Arab states are taking the positions they are taking now, i.e., the dangers of Iran, of radical elements in their own societies and so forth, but in my opinion, the Arab Peace Initiative was the basis for their participation. More importantly, that is what brought the Arab backing for the path that Abu Mazen has chosen. If Hamas were to sign on to the Arab Peace Initiative, it would place Israel and a few others in a very difficult position. I think the Arab Peace Initiative is an absolutely extraordinary document. It reversed the rejection of Israel in the region and supplied the one major element that Israel supposedly is looking for: normalization and end of conflict. Now, of course, something has to be done, which is how we get to the clauses themselves. But the clauses, with the exception of the formulation on refugees, are not new. This is how we go into every negotiation. It is the legitimate interpretation of 242, with some things that weren't in 242, but this was here from the beginning: the return to June 1967 lines and the creation of an independent Palestinian state, East Jerusalem as the capital and a resolution to the refugee problem. There is nothing new in those except for a new formulation of the refugee question. I do think that while these are the old demands, there have been enormous changes over the years also in Israel's position. The willingness to talk about Jerusalem, namely the Arab neighborhoods, is already a step forward. It's been broached. It's been rejected but broached again. I think it's an opening. The idea of swaps, as long as they are equal and agreed upon, is also something new, and at least on the table. Finally, Israel is more willing to see international involvement. Moreover, you now have formerly right-wing politicians and leaders talking about a two-state solution. This has become the slogan of the Israeli government, which is an extraordinary change. There are at least new possibilities for the demands that are in the Arab Peace Initiative.

AbuZayyad: It is true that one of the arguments about the failure at Camp David is that the Arabs left Arafat alone. But this was not the real or only reason for its failure. Although I don't want to go into that because it is not the topic of the discussion, you must realize that the Arabs cannot accept Israeli sovereignty over Haram el-Sharif. This is what the U.S. administration and Israel wanted the Arabs to pressure Arafat to accept. The Arab Peace Initiative came in 2002 against the background of the failure of the Camp David talks and the second intifada. The Arab countries wanted to stop this wave of violence and bloodshed on both sides by coming out with this initiative. But Israel did not respond positively to it, and violence on both sides silenced any reason or logic. Some say that the Arabs did not market the Arab Peace Initiative well, and that is why the Israeli public, the Israeli government and the international community did not accept it. I don't buy this argument.
The simple fact that they failed to reach an agreement on principles in Annapolis is for me clear evidence that the problem is not the Arab Peace Initiative, but rather the hidden agenda of the Israeli government. In the Arab Peace Initiative there is an offer from 22 Arab countries to recognize Israel and establish normal relations with it if Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, accepts a Palestinian state alongside Israel and concludes an agreed-upon solution to the Palestinian refugee problem. This is a very clear message to Israel that we do not insist on exercising the right of return, but we will put this issue on the table. In the end, any solution to the refugee problem will be agreed upon by Israel. Can anyone imagine that Israel will agree on the implementation of the full return of all the refugees of 1948? No. The Arab countries thought that if they signaled this to Israel, Israel would buy the Arab Peace Initiative. Unfortunately, Israel did not want it.
The Arab Peace Initiative is not talking only about the West Bank and Gaza but a comprehensive peace settlement between Israel and the Arab countries, including Syria if Israel withdraws from the Golan Heights. The Israelis, it's very clear, don't want to withdraw from the occupied territories; they want to take the land. They want to use the refugee issue as an excuse on the one hand, and to keep the Israeli public intimidated by the Palestinians on the other. The Arab League and the Islamic Congress were present in Annapolis, as well as several major Islamic and Arab countries. All of them came to this wedding, but there was no bride. I cannot understand what the Israelis want. They have this offer from the Arab countries which also opens the door to peace with Islamic countries, and they say, "No!"
Galia said something true: now it is the Israeli government talking about the two-state solution, yet you don't hear much from the Arabs about it. If you listen carefully to the debate within the Arab circles now, they are now talking about the one-state solution, because Israel's policy of expanding Jewish settlements and changing the nature of the occupied territories is undermining the possibility of the two-state solution. Now maybe when Israel speaks about the two-state solution they have in mind a Palestinian state in the air, not on the ground. A Palestinian state with provisional (undefined) borders is a state in the air. They can give all kinds of titles to the Palestinians, telling them: You can have a president, a prime minister, anything you want, but you will have nothing on the ground. If this is what the Israelis are dreaming about, I am sure that they are missing the train.

Zakout: First, I want to return to how Israel deals with the Arab Peace Initiative. The Arab Peace Initiative is not conditional; it is logical: Israel can't keep occupied land and enjoy the results of peace. It's a package deal. For the last few weeks Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni refused to mention the Arab Peace Initiative for the suggested declaration, yet she insisted, with the Americans, that the Arab countries must be in Annapolis. One day before Annapolis, Livni said that the Arabs must not interfere in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Half of Olmert's speech was about normalization. What does he want from any Palestinian or Arab citizen? He wants the blessing of the Arab countries for the occupation by Israel of the Arab territories?
Secondly, Israel must decide if it wants to negotiate with a unified Arab delegation concerning all the conflict. It is a goodwill gesture from the Arab countries, saying, "If you conclude a peace treaty with the Palestinians, as well as with the Syrians and the Lebanese, you will have not only normal relations, not only recognition - you will be accepted as a normal state in the area." It is not a negotiation plan, and it is not conditional, and it is not a starting point; it is a package deal. Of course, during the negotiations both sides will decide on the details, but they will abide by the terms of negotiations based on UN Resolutions 242 and 338, which I am happy Olmert mentioned yesterday. He also mentioned that the facts that began in 1967 will not continue, even though he tried to avoid mentioning the 1967 border as the agreed-upon starting point for land swaps.
Concerning the issue of refugees, I think that the formula put forward in the Arab Peace Initiative is a golden formula. It doesn't mean that Israel has a veto or can escape the responsibility of finding a solution. This is very important for the Israelis as well as for the Palestinians. Neglecting the issue of refugees will be dangerous for peace itself. I don't want to enter into the details of how it will be solved; it will be solved around the negotiation table. But again, the presence of the Arab countries in Annapolis, to emphasize or to endorse their initiative, must be explained in depth to the Israeli population as well as to the Palestinian population - that this time we have to decide: We can continue to have the same games that caused the explosion of 2000, or we can learn from the last seven years of confrontation and address all the issues of the conflict. By the way, the Arab Peace Initiative is mentioned in the Road Map.

Schenker: I also want to raise the question of the role of the third parties in general. Is there a role for the Arab League, for Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, or is it only the Americans and the Quartet, or is it parallel?

Podeh: I agree with many of the things that Jamal and Ziad mentioned regarding the Israeli response to the Arab Peace Initiative. In fact, back in 2003, I wrote that I was afraid that Israel had missed an opportunity to promote some kind of negotiation. That was already four years ago, but it is still the situation today. As I said before, I do notice some positive change in the Israeli position, but it's still not enough. I think that the Arab Peace Initiative can offer a few advantages. One big disadvantage is the fact that Israel might need to negotiate with the 22 countries of the Arab League all at once. Even the Jordanian and the Egyptian foreign ministers didn't come to Israel as representatives of the Arab league, but in their own capacities as foreign ministers, because the Arab League does not recognize Israel.

Zakout: That was because they came to ask Israel about its response to the Arab Peace Initiative. If Israel accepted it, I think that the situation would change.

Podeh: I agree, but still this is some kind of a nuance. But there may also be a few advantages to accepting this plan, at least as a basis for negotiations. First is the multilateral dimension of the plan. Instead of focusing on the Palestinian track, I suggested something like multi-bilateral tracks, meaning many bilateral tracks going on simultaneously. This could incorporate the Arab Peace Initiative as a basis by opening a track with the Palestinians, the Syrians, the Lebanese and perhaps a general Arab track to discuss some Arab issues. The second advantage is that you have to acknowledge that there are domestic problems inside some of the parties. The Israeli government is facing domestic problems, but the Palestinians also have problems with Hamas, which obviously will try to put obstacles in the way to any peace agreement. This can be bypassed by bringing in the Arab states. Once you have the umbrella of the Arab states, you might overcome the objection of Hamas.

Zakout: Or increase internal problems if there is no real peace treaty.

Golan: No, if the Palestinians do reach a peace agreement with Israel, this backing of the Arab League will put Hamas in the untenable position of being opposed by the entire Arab world.

Zakout: The Arab states have declared that if the Palestinians achieve a peace treaty, they will accept full diplomatic relations, regardless of Hamas. We also can't avoid the fact that the Arab countries will face domestic problems if real solutions aren't offered. This is the reason why the Saudi foreign minister said that they were very hesitant to go if there could be no real political result from Annapolis; it would be a disaster for all.

Golan: I want to raise a new issue. I think the value of the Arab states being involved is related to the United States. The U.S. needed the Arab states there yesterday. I think the involvement of the Arab states is one element that may get the U.S. to pressure Israel into a negotiated settlement. In my opinion, Bush is not looking at our conflict at all; he is looking at the region. The presence of the Arab states there yesterday was tremendously important, and that is the card that the Palestinians have. This is what got the U.S. to agree to a target date or a deadline. So long as the Arab states are involved in this way, it may bring about the kind of American pressure that will be absolutely necessary for Israel to actually reach an agreement. This is something that may not be welcomed by Israel, but if we want to see a peace agreement, I think it should be welcomed.

AbuZayyad: We should always take into account that real bilateral negotiations can happen only between equal partners. We are a people under military occupation, so we cannot negotiate with the Israelis. When the Americans say, "We will not interfere, we will not pressure, go and negotiate and come back to us," we get the same results as from our negotiations with them in the past. We will get nothing. At the end, no agreement or declaration of principles. In the absence of equality between the two parties, it is very important to have a third party mediating actively between them, bridging the gaps, pressuring them to reach compromises, and establishing monitoring and verification systems to follow up on the implementation of any agreement reached to make sure it is implemented honestly and properly. The problem with American mediation is that they are not playing the role of an active mediator. Recall what happened in 1978 during the Camp David negotiations between [Israeli Prime Minister Menachem] Begin and [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat under the auspices of [U.S. President Jimmy] Carter. At the end of the day, when the parties failed to reach an agreement, Carter put a document on the table and said this is the American position. He kept pressure on the two sides until they came to an agreement. In our case, the U.S. administrations from Madrid until now, almost 16 years, have not achieved any agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis, because they refrained from putting any ideas on the table and always claimed that their role is only to facilitate the negotiations without interfering in them. However, as long as no one at the top of the U.S. administration believes that this process belongs to him, nothing real will happen. They say you don't wash a rented car; you wash your own car. Maybe Rice tried to feel that Annapolis belonged to her. But in the end, she is not in a position to make the crucial decision. She is not the president. She is trying to help the president get out of the situation in Iraq and Iran, and to save the party on the eve of elections, but there is no real mediation role that the American administration is playing. We want to see a real fair broker that is courageous and neutral enough to take the initiative and push forward to reach an agreement.

Zakout: I think that a model that could change the role of the third party is to put on the table the responsibility of all parties to follow up on what was agreed and ask for a progress report every two or three months, to show how to improve the role of the Quartet in the Annapolis formula. The Quartet has been monopolized by the Americans. We need other forces to share in the process and not only be witnesses without any role. Here the Arab countries could be proactive in the process on the basis of the Arab Peace Initiative.

Podeh: A full commitment of the U.S. president is no doubt very needed, but I want to remind us all that Bill Clinton was very much committed to achieving peace but did not succeed.

AbuZayyad: He did not succeed because he did not act during Camp David in 2000. The summit was in September-October. The Clinton Parameters came in December. So when he had the people present in Camp David, he did not act.

Podeh: I think this is only part of the answer. In addition to the full commitment of a U.S. president, we need to see trust on both sides, and a willingness and ability to move forward. Only if you have those components, with the full commitment of the U.S. president, will the chances for success be high.

Golan: I would put it in the opposite direction - if you have full support of the U.S. president, you can go a long way in getting domestic support. The American role may conceivably be enlarged via the Arab states, given the situation of America today in the Middle East, and the stake the Arab states now have in a successful Israeli-Palestinian negotiation.

Schenker: The big headline in Yedioth Ahronot today was "A New Start." Is this a new start? Where are we going?

Golan: We are hoping it's a new start. We're hoping that on December 12 there will be negotiations with a continued target date of 2008. We've already raised all the issues. The problems are: a) Will Olmert have the political will to do what is necessary domestically within his own party, not only within his government? and b) Will Olmert actually be interested in following it through, or will he use the Road Map to justify delaying everything and drag out the negotiations? These are my key question marks. Additionally, will there be monitoring of the peace process? Will the Americans push for real negotiations? Will the Arab states push for real negotiations on the core issues? … What we had yesterday was at least a demonstration of intent to do these things. Whether or not anything will come of it, we can only guess.

AbuZayyad: As I said earlier, nothing new came out of Annapolis except a call to start negotiations. But I still believe that if the American administration makes a real effort in the remaining period of Bush's term to achieve an agreement with a process of implementation that will be binding on the next administration, this will be a great achievement. I hope something will materialize in the next few months that the next administration will have to adopt and build on. This could be the beginning of the process to go forward.

Zakout: We have two options: to repeat history in a more dramatic way, or to learn from the very dramatic mistakes. I think that both sides know the limitations of the other side. We must start from the point where we stopped in the negotiations and forget the bad developments in the last years. The Clinton Parameters and the Taba negotiations were a good achievement for both sides. I think that would be a good starting point. Within less than a year we could conclude a real peace treaty that could go on to the next administration, unlike what happened in the last days of the Clinton administration.

Podeh: My suggestion for a better Yedioth Ahronot headline would be "Annapolis: a new start?" because you can't really know. It depends on a lot of factors that can hardly be predicted now. If we want to take our lessons from history, I think that one of the failures of the Oslo process was that we didn't take into consideration seriously enough the opposition forces. This is the situation more or less today. In Israel, we have forces that are working against it. Also on the Palestinian side, we have serious forces such as Hamas that are working against peace. Each side has to turn inward to try to pacify the opposition forces. Otherwise you get to a situation where the domestic forces are determining the facts on the ground and will blow any agreement we achieve.

Golan: I really disagree with that. I think it's the wrong approach, and that's exactly what's been happening in the last few months. If Olmert does try to make everyone happy, we will get nowhere. They are going to try to sabotage a deal in any case. Olmert has a majority in the Knesset even without [Avigdor] Lieberman. He has a majority in the Knesset even without Shas. The only way that we are going to get a settlement approved by the public is if the government comes with an agreement. I think that the same thing is true for the Palestinians. If you come with an agreement, that's the proof. Then public opinion will come around. You never will persuade the settlers. Olmert can sell even East Jerusalem if it comes with an assurance: "end of conflict."

Zakout: If you don't deliver your goods, you will have strong opposition. We are in a situation in which we didn't deliver our goods to our supporters. The priority is to conclude a deal. This is the only way to limit the power of the opposition.

Golan: You are not going to get a public agreement on Jerusalem before an agreement. If you come with an agreement in place that Jerusalem is part of, then the opposition has nowhere to go.