Politicians and pundits agree on one thing – the Annapolis conference is an exercise in risk-taking.
The political gamble could either move things forward, or could be a catastrophic failure with dire consequences, mainly for the Palestinians.
Hamas refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Annapolis talks or any accord which might be signed there. But, for Mahmoud Abbas, the conference could be his big chance to make his mark as leader says his adviser, Abel Rabo:
“I guarantee you now that the conference will be a success. What matters now is the day after where we will be involved in direct, serious and difficult negotiations over the main issue, the final status issues.”
But Abbas knows its a great risk. At the head of a divided people and with dwindling public support, shoring up credibility is his only hope. Coming home empty-handed from the talks will serve to strengthen the position of Hamas.
The situation is equally as delicate for the Israelis. Ehud Olmert stands to gain a lot from Annapolis. But he is seen as too weak by many of his countrymen and fellow politicians. The military, under the direction of Ehud Barak, are demanding a tough stance against the Palestinians. While Olmert’s own political partners are urging him to avoid committing himself over controversial issues.
Productive talks, however, could translate into a surge in support for Olmert, allowing him to score points on delicate issues, like that of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
The rest of the Middle East is equally as divided. Damascus has sent a delegation, mainly because the future of the Golan Heights may be up for discussion. Cairo and Riyadh will also be represented.
Both have ignored calls from Tehran to boycott the meeting at Annapolis. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has already stated that the talks are intended to benefit only Israel.