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U.S. Newspaper Editorials Offered Mixed View of Annapolis Meeting

Posted: December 3, 2007

In the days leading up to and following the U.S.-sponsored meeting on Israeli-Palestinan peace in Annapolis, Maryland, a number of large circulation daily newspapers across the United States commented in editorials on the meeting's prospects and the agreement reached between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to restart negotiations with an eye toward reaching a comprehensive accord by the end of 2008.

The Anti-Defamation League, in an informal survey of editorials from 32 large circulation daily newspapers in the U.S., found reaction to the meeting was mixed, with some editorials expressing hopeful sentiments, and others undecided or skeptical about the meeting's prospects and outcome.

In pre- and post-conference editorials, eight papers of those surveyed expressed hopeful sentiments, 15 were undecided about the future of the Israeli-Palestinian peace-making process, and nine were skeptical.

Pre-Conference Reaction

Prior to the start of the November 27, 2007 meeting in Annapolis, 19 large circulation U.S. newspapers commented editorially.  They were: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Buffalo News, the New York Post, (Long Island) Newsday, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Baltimore Sun, the St. Petersburg Times, the Detroit Free Press, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, The Denver Post, the Houston Chronicle, the (Oklahoma City) Oklahoman, The (Portland) Oregonian, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the San Diego Union Tribune, the Orange County Register, The (San Jose) Mercury News, and the San Francisco Chronicle.

All of the editorials were supportive of the meeting, calling it "commendable," "an effort that must be made," "long overdue," and said that if it leads to resumption of talks between Israel and the Palestinians, "so much the better."  But they also varied in their expectations.

Seven of the 19 editorials did not view prospects as good.  They cautioned that expectations for success were "low" or "couldn't get much lower," that there was "little reason to be optimistic," that a breakthrough "looks remote," and that if there is no follow up to Annapolis the situation could worsen.  Eight of the newspapers presented a mixed or undecided view.  Three of the papers expressed better expectations for the meeting, saying there was reason for hope.

Post-Conference Reaction

After Annapolis, ADL reviewed an additional 21 editorials from USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Daily News, the Dallas Morning News, The Boston Globe, The (Newark) Star-Ledger, the Philadelphia Inquirer, (Phoenix) Arizona Republic, (Long Island) Newsday, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Baltimore Sun, The (Portland) Oregonian, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Kansas City Star, The (Orange County) Register, the San Antonio Express-News, and the Louisville Courier-Journal.

In comparison to the pre-meeting comments, more newspapers appeared hopeful for the future of Middle East peace-making, while those undecided and those skeptical remained almost the same.   Six of the 21 papers expressed hope for the future of the peace process.  They said the meeting "lays the groundwork for future Mideast progress," that "it stirs hope" and is "a welcomed start," and that it "just may work."

Nine remained undecided about the outcome.  They said that the Annapolis meeting can only be judged by any concrete results that follow.  Six were skeptical.  They said the path has "led to failure so many times before," that odds of a breakdown, always high, are even more elevated now, and that the results of failure "has been a worsening of events."

Pre- and Post-Conference Editorials

Eight papers published both pre- and post-conference editorials.  Of them, two were consistently skeptical; one remained consistently hopeful; one moved from uncertain to skeptical; one moved from skeptical to uncertain; one moved from skeptical to hopeful; one moved from uncertain to hopeful; and one moved from a seemingly sidebar issue to uncertain:

• The New York Times remained skeptical.
• Newsday remained upbeat.
• The Philadelphia Inquirer remained skeptical.
• The Washington Post went from skeptical to undecided.
• The San Francisco Chronicle went from undecided to positive.
• The Baltimore Sun went from an unusual opinion to undecided.
• The Portland Oregonian went from skeptical to hopeful.
• The Orange County Register went from undecided to skeptical.

Other Themes

A number of concerns were raised.  Specifically, some editorials were critical of President George W. Bush for having ignored the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for so long.  Others warned that Olmert and Abbas were "diminished politically."  Several papers said that failure of the meeting could boost Iran.  Several noted the attendance of "high-level leaders" from Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia and Syria, and other nations.  One paper, The Baltimore Sun, focused its pre-conference comments on Syria, saying that the U.S. must be prepared to include Syria in the mix if America's Middle East goals are to be reached.

Selected Highlights

Hopeful on the Outcome:

USA Today, in an editorial entitled "Annapolis lays groundwork for future Mideast progress" (November 28, 2007), said that although circumstances today are more difficult than they were in 1991 when the Madrid conference was held, Annapolis nonetheless "can lay the essential groundwork for a breakthrough when the moment is right."  It said that although the peace process has been dormant for seven years, that moderates in the Middle East are in danger of being marginalized, that Hamas refuses to recognize Israel, and that Prime Minister Olmert is politically weak, "there nevertheless is a slim thread of hopeful news" if the Bush administration can seize it.  It said that by getting everyone back to the bargaining table, Bush and Rice have taken the first vital step in a journey that eventually may look more promising."

The Los Angeles Times, in an editorial entitled "Summit surpasses low expectations" (November 28, 2007), said that, "defying rock-bottom expectations," Israel, the Palestinians, and President Bush "rose to the occasion" at the Annapolis conference.  It said the "joint understanding" was "no more than an agreement to kick off negotiations" but did "set out a pragmatic framework for resolving the 'final status' issues" that have been seen as virtually insurmountable obstacles to the creation of a Palestinian state, including borders, Jerusalem, and Palestinian refugees right of return.  It referred to the "repugnant spectacle" of Jews praying at the Western Wall for the failure of the peace process and of Hamas supporters condemning Abbas to death as a "traitor."  It concluded by saying: "Where there is even the faintest hope, we must protect and nourish the fragile embryo of peace."

The Arizona Republic, in an editorial entitled "A step at a time" (November 29, 2007), said that sometimes low expectations are useful.  It said, "wonder of wonders, we saw" Olmert and Abbas "shaking hands over an agreement to restart negotiations."  It said peace talks will be harder than ever, but "not impossible," noting obstacles such as "weak leaders," Hamas, Israel's need to freeze the construction of Jewish settlements and remove illegal outposts, and the Palestinians' responsibility to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure.  Comparing the situation to hiking the Grand Canyon, it concluded: "The rim is far, far away.  But we're not at the bottom of the canyon anymore."

The Oregonian, in an editorial entitled "One promising step: The Middle East peace conference at Annapolis offers a tantalizing glint of possibility for the future" (November 28, 2007), said: "The challenges are daunting and the goals are elusive.  Yet the participants struck all the right notes Tuesday on the first day of what we hope is a long and fruitful journey.  It is heartening to see Olmert and Abbas commit to twice-monthly meetings and to see Bush's administration embrace a diplomatic initiative."

Uncertain About the Outcome:

The Washington Post, in an editorial entitled "An Opening in Annapolis" (November 28, 2007), said the Annapolis meeting "comfortably cleared the low bar of expectations that had been set for it."  But it went on to say that "the considerable skepticism that surrounds the new talks is justified."  It said the meeting resembled other conferences that were followed by negotiations that soon bogged down, but that there are some encouraging differences now that could give new impetus to Palestinian efforts to take over security in the West Bank and Israeli pledges to dismantle dozens of illegal settlement outposts.  It said the most important contribution the U.S. can make is to help create the political and diplomatic context the two leaders will need to make those concessions.  It said that the Annapolis process cannot work unless there is a workable strategy for the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, and concluded: "While the talks proceed, Gaza cannot be left to fester."

The Chicago Tribune, in an editorial entitled "This time?" (November 28, 2007), said: "It's hard to shake the feeling of déjà vu here.  And that's not a good feeling."  It said: "Yet there is this reason for hope: While the issues and animosities at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict haven't changed much in seven years, nearly everything else in the region has."  It added: "So let's cast aside the sense of déjà vu and cling to a sense of hope."
 
The Boston Globe, in an editorial entitled "After Annapolis" (November 28, 2007), said that the event "can only be judged by what follows it."  It said: "If  [the] meeting is to become something more than another missed opportunity for Mideast peace, Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans will have to persevere until they forge a just and durable peace agreement."  It said that if a time comes when the two sides are unable to reconcile their positions on key issues, President Bush and Secretary of State Rice "must be prepared to present American proposals for a final-status agreement.  They should do so in the knowledge that both peoples want and need a future of two states living side by side in peace."

The Baltimore Sun, in an editorial entitled "The long haul" (November 29, 2007), greeted the meeting at the White House between President Bush and the Israeli and Palestinian leaders as the "first fruit" of Annapolis and said there is "at least the promise of a more substantial harvest down the road."  But, it added, "if Annapolis turns out to be nothing more than an end-of-term gambit by President Bush, it will come to nothing."  It said that the deadline set was "artificial" and that it would be a shame to subject genuine peace in the Middle East to the specifics of the U.S. political calendar.  It said that great deal of difficult bargaining lies ahead and that any resolution to be effective may have to wait until the Palestinians overcome their internal divide.

Skeptical of the Outcome:

The New York Times, in an editorial entitled "Thinking Beyond Annapolis" (November 24, 2007) said that after six years of "neglecting" the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, President Bush
and Secretary of State Rice "are to be commended for finally trying."  It said that the meeting needs to produce a disciplined process of negotiations, addressing all the core issues that the Israelis, Palestinians, and President Bush "have so far refused to grapple with."  "To be credible," it said, "the conference needs to begin serious, detailed and sustained talks on the core issues: the borders of a Palestinian state, the fate of refugees, the future of Jerusalem and a guarantee for Israel's legitimate security concerns."  It said that "Arab leaders do not have much confidence in either Ms. Rice's diplomatic skills or Mr. Bush's willingness to pres the Israelis to compromise," and concluded that "A conference that withers away once the TV cameras leave Annapolis could be worse than no conference at all."

In a subsequent November 28, 2007 editorial entitled "Starting From Annapolis," The New York Times declared: "If there is any hope of pulling this off, Mr. Bush and his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, will have to invest their time, their reputation and their best arm-twisting, including offering bridging proposals to nudge both sides beyond their long-fixed positions.  There's no chance at all if Mr. Bush goes back to the sidelines."

The Wall Street Journal, in an editorial entitled "After Annapolis" (November 29, 2007), said: "Only the churlish could wish the sincere Annapolis peace makers ill.  But neither does it help to cheer them down a path that has led to failure so many times before."

The New York Daily News, in an editorial entitled "The long-shot summit" (November 28, 2007), cautioned against letting expectations "run too high" and said that the Annapolis meeting began "an exceedingly difficult process – one that sadly carries greater risk of failure than of success."  It said that "there should be no delusion that Abbas, for one, has the clout and/or moral authority to deliver true progress toward peace" or the strength to make concessions to Israel.  It added that Olmert also is "short on political muscle at home."  It said this was "hardly the formula for successful talks," for which Bush and Rice "bear responsibility."  It concluded: "They cobbled the conference together…with far too little certainty as to its outcome.  And so the odds of a breakdown, always high, are even more elevated.  Should that occur, rather than two states living in peace, there would be only bitter fruit."

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