Thursday, 22 November 2007

Annapolis or bust

By Khaled Diab
Ahead of the Annapolis conference, a TV debate in which I appeared was broadcast on Wednesday 22 November. In it, I argued that Annapolis was little more than a photo op and that the hopes it raised would be dashed in a camera flash. If the gathering fails, then the time would be ripe to experiment with creative and radical approaches to peace.

Nadia Abu Zahra hosted Middle East Today, an hour-long debating programme on the new London-based satellite channel, Press TV*. The other members of the panel were Ghayth Armanazi, a former Arab League ambassador, George Lambrakis, a former US diplomat, and Simon Tisdall of the Guardian.

The discussion revolved around the prospects for a breakthrough at Annapolis, the aims and agendas of each of the parties, whether or not Israel was missing an opportunity, and what the different players – the EU, Russia, the Arab League, etc. – from the outside world could do to improve prospects.

When asked whether and why Israel was missing an opportunity, I pointed out that the Israeli peace camp is too weak to hold back the vested interests that want to hold on to the settlements and large chunks of the West Bank. I added that there is a lot of public disillusionment and apathy, with a lot of Israelis reconciled to the idea of an indefinite conflict.

When quizzed on why the Palestinians were going to Annapolis despite the low expectations attached to the event, I suggested that, given the desperate situation Palestinians endure, certain Palestinians are compelled to clutch at straws in this way.

The road less travelled
Given the resounding failure of top-down diplomacy, I speculated that perhaps we were tackling this conflict the wrong way round. I argued that involving all the stakeholders to the conflict was crucial and that means engaging the citizenry directly in the peace process because the leadership on both sides do not enjoy the mandate necessary to make the necessary concessions.

I also suggested that it might be time for the Palestinians to do something daring if Annapolis did not deliver: give up their national struggle and demand full civil rights and Israeli citizenship.

*Press TV is a new Iranian satellite channel based in London. I had never heard of it before they contacted me and was somewhat concerned by the fact that it was owned by the Iranian government and whether that would place restrictions on what I could or couldn’t say.

The station’s fixer assured me that Press TV operated on the “BBC model”, i.e. it is funded by the state, but there is no governmental interference, and that I would have complete freedom during the programme to speak my mind. She also informed me that the programme was taped as live and none of it is edited. However, after the debate, a journo friend told me that he’d heard that the channel cuts out the bits it doesn’t like – which worried me a little bit. Fortunately, as far as I could tell, every single word was broadcast.

This was the first time I’d taken part in a TV debate and the frequent breakdowns in the satellite connection did not help the flow. In addition, the fact that I could not see the other panellists and could only hear them like ghostly apparitions in my ear while gazing into the impassive eye of the camera, made it a lot tougher to get my points across than in an article!

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