Exclusive: 3 tracks to keep peace process alive

'Post' learns efforts will include bilateral talks, road map implementation, int'l support enlistment.

Annapolis wave 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Annapolis wave 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the US - in the immediate aftermath of the Annapolis conference - are working to launch three parallel tracks to keep the Annapolis process alive and active, The Jerusalem Post has learned. The first is the bilateral negotiation track, which is to begin with talks between Israeli and Palestinian representatives at a Steering Committee meeting on December 12 somewhere in the region. Those talks are expected to establish the overall framework for the negotiations both sides said they would like to wrap up with an agreement by the end of 2008. Although US officials have indicated that they see an American role in the Steering Committee talks, Israel's position, the Post has learned, is that the US will "not be in the room" and that these discussions will be purely bilateral. The Steering Committee is expected to meet on a regular basis and oversee the whole negotiating process. Israel's team, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has made clear, will be led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and is expected to include representatives from the Prime Minister's Office and the Defense Ministry. Running in parallel with the Steering Committee, and to oversee its work, Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas are to meet every other week. The second track is the road map implementation track, including the US monitoring mechanism. The sides are currently in the process of structuring just how this mechanism will work. But it is considered critical since Israel has said it would not implement any agreement until the Palestinians fulfill their road map requirements. The mechanism will be the judge of when this happens. Much of the work of developing this mechanism is taking place in the US since Washington will be the judge of when various commitments under the road map have been met. The US, therefore, is entering unchartered waters where it essentially will need to serve as "judge and jury" and need to do so in a way that will satisfy both sides. Although retired US general James Jones, who formerly served as NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe, has not yet formally received the appointment as head of this mechanism, US diplomatic sources said Monday he would get the position. The third post-Annapolis track is enlisting the Arab countries and the international community to produce a favorable regional environment that will advance a two-state solution. The idea is to get the Arab world and the international community to give both parties the space, time and legitimacy to make compromises. The next key landmark on this track is the meeting of donor countries in Paris on December 17. Both Jerusalem and Washington will be watching carefully to see to what extent the Arab countries that were present at Annapolis - and, as such, tacitly endorsed the idea of a two-state solution - would "put their money where their mouths are" and take practical steps to help create Palestinian governing institutions that would help make a two-state solution possible. Many of these countries have pledged large sums of money to the PA in the past but have not delivered, and their actions at the donors' conference will be carefully monitored for indications as to whether they are indeed supporting a two-state solution. One of the goals of the Annapolis process is to de-legitimize Hamas in the eyes of Palestinians and the Arab world by showing the PA as a viable alternative to it and building up the PA. As the Arab world helps develop PA governing capacity, Jerusalem would also like to see the Arab countries take steps toward Israel and, by so doing, change the regional environment. While Saudi Arabia made clear that it would not take any public step at this time toward Israel, Jerusalem still hopes to see some of the other Arab states take actions that would indicate that the Arab world was not just expecting things from Israel, but also doing its part to change the regional atmosphere. The idea of following up the Annapolis gathering with another international peace conference in Moscow in the first half of 2008 was proposed last week, but has yet to be accepted or agreed upon.