Press greets ME peace talks with cynicism, cautious optimism | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, November 29, 2007 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, November 29, 2007

Press greets ME peace talks with cynicism, cautious optimism

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US President George W Bush (C) walks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (L) and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas during ME peace conference at US naval academy at Annapolis in Maryland on Tuesday. Photo: AFP

A pledge by Israel and the Palestinians to seek a peace deal by the end of 2008 was greeted in the Middle East press yesterday by cautious optimism at best and downright cynicism at worst.
Israeli newspapers questioned whether US President George W Bush had put the cart before the horse by hyping the opening of the talks in Annapolis, Maryland when chances of agreement are slim and the dangers of failure potentially catastrophic.
"Making Peace for the Cameras," read a headline in Israeli tabloid Maariv.
"Peace ceremonies are usually held after peace (is reached)," wrote the daily's leading political commentator. "Yesterday at Annapolis, the order was reversed.
"First they made a ceremony, with all the requisite pomp and circumstance, and now let's make peace," he wrote. "If the huge expectations that were built up yesterday following the president's speech are dashed, we stand to face a serious disaster."
Saudi Arabia's Al-Riyadh, which went to press before details of Tuesday's announcement were available, also questioned the agenda.
"When a call for normalisation between the two parties is made before reaching an agreement, it becomes a prelude to a forthcoming failure."
Some commentators also questioned the degree to which the United States is committed to peace, with one cynically accusing Bush of using the conference to save his own image.
"Apparently, every American president seeks not to miss the peace train and hangs on to the last wagon by trying to end their mandate with a Middle East peace deal," Egypt's pro-government Al-Akhbar wrote.
The paper compared Annapolis, Bush's biggest push for Middle East peace since taking office in 2001, to the Camp David II talks near the end of predecessor Bill Clinton's term in 2000, which ended in failure.
"Bush has seized the opportunity and repeated the same attempt at Annapolis ... in the hope of realising a historic agreement that will erase the mess he has put himself in in Iraq," Al-Akhbar continued.
Syrian government newspaper Tishrin was also sceptical.
"Over the past seven years the American administration has used the language of war without ever learning the language of dialogue, raising the legitimate question of how serious the Bush administration is regarding Annapolis."
The paper asked whether the US government "has finally learned the errors of its policies, which caused the Republicans to lose their majority in Congress and has generated hatred of Americans."
Al-Baath, the organ of Syria's ruling party, put the onus on the Americans and the Israelis.
"The ball is in the Israeli-American court," it said.
"From the Madrid Conference (in 1992) until Annapolis, the Arabs have agreed to everything asked of them and have seized on every chance that came up to reach a just and durable peace that would guarantee the recovery of the lands and their rights."
Annapolis "could achieve a lot if the United States decided to fulfill the role of (impartial mediator) that falls to it and to make progress that could compensate, even if only partially, for the catastrophes caused by its foreign policy."
An-Nahar, a Lebanese daily close to the Western-backed, anti-Syrian coalition in that country, was scathing in its assessment.
Annapolis "is simply one more step along the path of failure and stupidity followed by the American administration in the Middle East," it said. "The actual result will be close to zero."
In contrast, Lebanon's pro-Syrian As-Safir said the Annapolis was the "strongest Arab signal yet ... that the doors to normalisation with Israel are effectively open."
That view was not shared by Egypt's indpendent Al-Badil, which questioned the motives of Arab leaders who hastened to the meeting while "leaving all their wounds open: Lebanon without a president, Sudan about to explode, northern Iraq under threat of Turkish invasion and Palestine, in particular the Gaza Strip, in a terrible state."
"The answer is that they only went to Annapolis to show their allegiance to the Americans," it said.
In the end, Egypt's pro-government Al-Gomhuriya said "the question is, can the country that is occupying Iraq persuade Israel to end its occupation of Palestine, Syria and Lebanon?"
Palestinian daily Al-Quds noted what it called an "encouraging start in Annapolis."

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