The Annapolis conference in Maryland held in 2007 and sponsored by President Bush, fell short of achieving its aim of concluding a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians by the end of 2008. Even so, Mr Bush can now leave office knowing that the aims of Annapolis have at least been enshrined in UN Security Council Resolution 1850 which passed without opposition on Tuesday. "What that resolution does," said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, "is to put the international community on record in believing in the irreversibility of the Annapolis process - bilateral negotiations toward a two-state solution, a comprehensive solution, and the various principles of Annapolis and what the parties have established since then." The peace process has become "the Annapolis process". What if anything that process will yield in 2009 is far from clear. An international meeting in Moscow is under consideration. A year after the Maryland conference, the BBC's Paul Wood saw few indications that a Palestinian state was any closer to becoming a reality. "[A]fter 40 years of occupation, it looks to many as if Israel is permanently annexing the West Bank. "If so, either the Palestinians must be kept in permanent subjugation, or they must be granted political rights. The first would extinguish Israel's claim to be a democracy; the second would be the end of the Jewish majority in Israel. "But if the only way out of this dilemma is a Palestinian state, why does Israel continue with settlement building on occupied land? "The left-wing Israeli commentator, Akiva Eldar, told me: 'Israelis realise that there is no way to keep the [Palestinian] territories... Intellectually they know this, the problem is that politically they are not willing to pay the price.' "Since the meeting in Annapolis, exactly a year ago, work has begun on some 1,200 new homes in the occupied territories, according to official figures. "There are now 450,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, 180,000 of them in East Jerusalem. Some settlers live on land Israel expects to keep. But many settlements would have to be evacuated under any agreement." The Guardian reported that Britain's prime minister Gordon Brown hopes that 2009 will be the "year of peace" in the Middle East but he said that Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land are a "blockage" to that outcome. He urged Barack Obama to build on the 2002 Arab League peace initiative to end the conflict. "The prime minister used a Palestinian business conference in London to highlight the settlement issue as Salam Fayyad, his Palestinian counterpart, warned that Israeli policy must change if there is to be any prospect of a viable, two-state solution. "Brown's remarks underline a growing international emphasis on settlements amid hopes for movement when the new US administration takes office. But those hopes are already clouded by the prospect of the rightwing Likud party winning the Israeli election in February. "Fayyad said he found it 'devastating' that Israelis were not even debating the settlement issue. Palestinian support for his dual policy of reform and negotiation would collapse if prospects for a workable deal faded away, he added." Gershon Baskin, from the Israel/Palestine Centre for Research and Information, wrote in The Jerusalem Post that it might already be too late for a two-state solution. He suggests that in the West Bank, Palestinians and Jewish settlers "might be too locked into a entanglement that is already beyond the possibility to untangle." If Benjamin Netanyahu becomes Israel's next prime minister in February, Palestinians do not believe that with a right-wing religious parties-backed coalition, he will be able or willing to negotiate anything of substance with them. Mr Baskin said: "Palestinian intellectuals, including the very same people who led the Palestinian national movement to support the two-state solution, have now turned back to the bi-national plan. They are not na´ve enough to believe that Israel will accept the bi-national reality that it has created. They know that Israel will continue to hold onto the occupation and to keep the local Palestinian population under its guns and control. They know that the price of accepting the bi-national option is continued struggle which will more than likely be much bloodier than anything we have seen until now. "It is hard to imagine that there are Israelis who actually believe that this totally unequal reality is sustainable. But there are. There are perhaps millions of them in Israel today, and they are probably going to vote for the Likud. With Netanyahu at the helm and without a course to steer that leads towards sincere negotiations with the Palestinians on all of the core issues, including Jerusalem, the chances for reaching a two-state solution will rapidly fade away and in its face will come, without a doubt, the bi-national reality, either in its secular form or in its Hamas form. "The international community will respond quickly. It may take the US longer because the hope for the two-state solution will linger longer across the ocean, even with a president who should be super sensitive to blatant discrimination. The bi-national reality will be brutal because by accepting it the Palestinians will not be acquiescing to the status quo. There is nothing about the status quo that will be acceptable or that can be acceptable. If the secular evolution endures, the Palestinians will launch an international struggle for full democracy - one person one vote for everyone living between the river and the sea. Once the two-state solution is no longer viable, and with the election of Netanyahu we will rapidly approach that moment, the dream of a democratic Jewish state will be lost. The international community, even Israel's best friends, will not be able to accept the bi-national reality where the Jewish people completely control the lives of millions of Palestinians who no longer want independence in their own state. The Palestinians will demand democracy, civil rights, the right to vote, the right to be elected, the right for representation, the right to change the character of the bi-national state. They will never agree to some form of counterfeit freedom called 'economic peace' or 'autonomy'. Netanyahu and Feiglin and their friends can dream on." Meanwhile, after conflicting reports raised uncertainty over whether a six-month truce between Hamas and Israel will be renewed, Rami G Khouri in The Daily Star placed the immediate question in a broader context. "Reasonable people would expect that Israelis and Palestinians alike prefer a cease-fire to active warfare, especially since mutual attacks have never resolved the core conflict. Hamas' decision to extend the cease-fire is not going to be made on the basis of what makes its people more or less comfortable, or what entices Israelis into opening the gates a little bit wider to allow more consumer goods to enter Gaza. The basis on which Hamas makes such decisions reflects its wider worldview of the character and aims of Israel, and the nature of its confrontation with Israel. "Like other Islamist groups, Hamas calculates on the basis of a longer time frame than the next election, shifting public opinion, or whether or not it will be invited to tea at the White House. The single most important factor in the mind of the Islamist leaders is whether the agreement to renew the cease-fire reflects mutual respect and an acceptance of the principle of equal rights for Israel and Hamas. "If the deal proposed is seen to have forced Israel to change its position and respect the terms of the agreement, Hamas will extend. If it merely comprises vague Israeli promises in return for Hamas and other militant groups stopping their rocket attacks against Israel, the deal will collapse. Hamas' view is that mutual requirements, rather than the unilateral requirement of Israeli security, must be assured for a cease-fire to happen. The driving force for such a posture is the Islamist sense that the battle to defend and reclaim the land will be a long one, and it will require a heavy price in lives and suffering before Israel negotiates sincerely and views the Palestinians as humans worthy of the same rights as Israelis."
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