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News Analysis: Will the upcoming Mideast conference succeed?
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07:51, September 20, 2007

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U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Israel on Wednesday, embarking upon a peacemaking mission to the Middle East entangled in the chronic Israel-Palestinian conflict.

During the 24-hour trip, she is expected to "lay groundwork" for a U.S. sponsored international conference on Middle East peace, which is set to be held in November.

While preparation of the summit is still going on, there is a question that will the upcoming Mideast conference succeed?

Political analysts held that the conference success depends on whether Israel and the Palestinians could reach an agreement acceptable to both sides, prior to the international meeting.

Even the summit can be held successfully, it won't necessarily lead to concrete progress in the deadlocked peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, analysts said.

According to Israeli media, Rice said en route to Israel on Wednesday that "critical issues" would be tackled at the international conference and called on the Israelis and Palestinians to exert more efforts to bridge their differences.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have met several times since Hamas' violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in mid-June and are expected to reach agreements ahead of the November conference.

But dispute still looms large at present, focusing on whether the two sides will reach a detailed framework agreement on sensitive final status issues as the Palestinians want, or merely a general declaration of principles as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has phrased it.

"We still have a lack of clarity about what this meeting is all about and what's the expected outcome," said Tamara Wittes, a senior fellow with the Washington-based Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

Israeli daily Jerusalem Post quoted Wittes as saying that without clear goals, key players such as the Saudis were hesitant to come. "They have doubts about whether to walk in the door, and that's reasonable."

However, it seems that to form an agreement that could make the conference successful, both Israel and the Palestinians need to make concessions that neither side would like to make in the past.

Professor Eytan Gilboa, a researcher with Israel's Begin-Sadat Center For Strategic Studies (BESA), held that the November conference "will be successful only when an agreement has been completed before the parties go to Washington."

But such an agreement acceptable to all requires Israel to agree on the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and the related key issues such as Israeli withdrawal from most of the territories of the West Bank, exchange of lands for peace, Palestinian refugees and the division of rule in Jerusalem.

"This conference has to succeed or not to exist," said Giboa. " If the meeting convened but nothing comes out of it, the situation would be worse than it is now."

While doubting on whether the upcoming conference could bring about concrete breakthrough to the Middle East peace process, people are also worry about implementation of the agreements even if being reached during the conference.

The two sides, the Israelis and the Palestinians and Arabs as a whole, have signed a lot of agreements in the past, but none of them was fully implemented.

Giboa also held that it is the U.S., not Israel or the Palestinians that really need this summit, which will probably be considered as the legacy of the U.S. President George W. Bush in the future.

So far, Bush's foreign policy has been considered as a failure, especially in the Middle East. With about one year left in office, the only chance for Bush to achieve success is the Israeli- Palestinian front.

Professor Shmuel Sandler, also a researcher with BESA, expressed similar opinion as Gilboa, saying that the reason that the U.S. want the November conference is that Bush wants to move the Middle East peace process ahead before his tenure ends.

"The expectation of Israel and the PNA (Palestinian National Authority) on the conference are so far apart, even if they signed an agreement at the meeting, it will be a very general one, and won't lead to real breakthrough between the two sides," said Sandler.

Source: Xinhua

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