The die is cast. The Annapolis summit is on.
On Monday, the Israeli Ministry of Finance received Knesset Finance Committee Approval for a $1.5 million budget to cover the Israeli government costs of expenses pertaining to the Middle East regional summit in Annapolis, Md., scheduled for November 26.
Since American taxpayers will be covering the lodging at the summit, this budget will be spent on research, personnel and public relations to prepare the Israeli public for the unprecedented consequences of the planned summit for the future of Israel and the Middle East. Some of those expenses will be used for the Israeli government to fly Israeli government officials to “win over” the delegates to the General Assembly of Jewish Federations and Jewish Community Councils that will gather for their annual meeting, November 11-13 in Nashville, Tenn.
Over the next 10 days, Israeli and Palestinian negotiation teams will meet privately in Jerusalem to formulate a joint declaration for the conference.
These discussions will culminate in a public meeting that to take place under the Saban Center for Middle East Studies convening for three days in Jerusalem and in Amman, the capital of Jordan, between November 3 and November 5. Gaps remain on at least 10 issues, as stated in the following 10 questions:
1. Are the November conference aims attainable? There is a possibility the aims defined for the negotiations are unattainable: Israel and the Palestinians do not have the ability (within six weeks) to reach an agreement that is substantively different from any other previously signed agreement.
2. Is the Israeli negotiation team organizationally prepared? The current members of the Israeli government do not seem to be united on any position that the Israeli government plans to take concerning key issues on the table – final borders, refugees from 1948 and Jerusalem.
3. The Negotiation Agenda: Forward or backward looking? The agenda for Israeli – Arab negotiations was created in 1949 to resolve the 1948 conflict, which produced armistice lines and temporary peace arrangements. The question remains as to whether and how to frame an agenda around the issues of future state-to-state relations.
4. What is status of U.N. Resolution 194, which recognizes the “right of return” for Arab refugees? The question remains: Will Israeli recognition of U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194, as a basis for resolving the refugee issue, be used by the PLO and the Arab states to advance the return of refugees and their descendants back to the villages and homes they left in 1948?
5. What is the difference between a “Permanent Status Agreement” and “Permanent Status”? A “Permanent Status Agreement” refers to permanent status and regulating the way to obtain it. A “Permanent Status,” however, refers to the reality created after the “Permanent Status Agreement” and the implementation and resolution of outstanding issues. That would involve the summit coming up with ideas as to how to implement the permanent status agreement, which might entail a tedious process that neither party is prepared to undertake.
6. Who will the Palestinian State represent? In theory, the issue of Palestinian representation should be straightforward – the Palestinian State will be the sole representative of its citizens; in practice, however, this issue raises a series of important issues. Israel will insist that a Palestinian State – if and when it is established – will only represent its citizens, while the PLO might see it as representing anyone who sees himself as a Palestinian.
7. What is Jordan’s role in the peace process? Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have far-reaching consequences for Jordan. Jordan’s interests are being kept in mind from the earliest stages of negotiations
8. What will be the fate of the Palestinian right to self-determination? Will the establishment of a Palestinian State fulfill the Palestinian right to self-determination and remove this issue from the agenda? Or would a group of Palestinians continue to claim their rights remain unfulfilled even after the establishment of such a state? Would Israeli Arabs be allowed to have a dual Israeli-Palestinian citizenship?
9. When will the two sides declare an “End of Conflict” and “Finality of Claims”? Even if there is little likelihood of reaching any “End of Conflict” and “Finality of Claims” it is important for Israel’s international standing to agree on the conditions that would signal their fulfillment -something which no Israeli policymaker is ready to cope with.
10. What are the main issues and interfaces between the future Palestinian State and Israel? For all intents and purposes, the establishment of a Palestinian State should be a simple declarative political act. In reality, it raises a series of diplomatic and political issues with long-term significance. For example, what will be the relationship or alliance of a Palestinian state with Arab states that have remained in an active state of war with Israel since 1948 – such as Saudi Arabia? Will a future Palestinian State allow a foreign army on its soil?