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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 November 2007, 10:32 GMT
Q&A: Annapolis meeting
US Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland
The main talks will be held the US Naval Academy in Annapolis
For the BBC News website, Tarik Kafala looks at the key questions surrounding the meeting on the Middle East conflict at Annapolis in the United States.

What are the aims of the meeting?

According to its American hosts, the meeting aims to build international support for a Palestinian state. This has been widely criticised as unambitious, since all sides agree on this, in principle.

Bush administration officials say they hope the gathering at the US Naval Academy on the 27 November will be the beginning of intensive negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.
ANNAPOLIS SCHEDULE
1400 GMT (0900 Washington time): Arrivals
1440-1530 GMT: Closed meeting between Bush, Olmert and Abbas
1600 GMT: Speeches by all three leaders
1700 GMT: Three sessions on international support, economic and institutional development and regional peace
0030 GMT: End of meeting press conference

Negotiators from both sides have been meeting for months to prepare for the conference.

Palestinians had hoped to come up with a joint declaration of principles with the Israelis on the key issues, ahead of the conference. They also wanted a timetable for the establishment of their state.

Israeli negotiators have refused to put their names to the principles or a timetable, but the government has issued a commitment to limit settlement growth and release more than 400 Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

Who's attending?

About 40 states and organisations have been invited. Most of these invitations are uncontroversial and some seem to have little or no connection to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Saudi Arabia has said that its foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, will attend. But Prince Saud insisted: "[We are] not prepared to take part in a theatrical show, in handshakes and meetings that don't express political positions."

Syria, has also agreed to attend. It is sending its Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad.

Neither state has any kind of diplomatic relations with Israel, so their attendance is already a minor coup for the American organisers.

What are the issues?

The issues are the same as they were seven years ago, the last time substantive negotiations were held: sharing Jerusalem, the shape of a future Palestinian state, and what happens to Palestinian refugees exiled from homes that are now in Israel.

If anything the situation on the ground is more complicated and compromise less likely than in 2000.

Israeli opposition to sharing Jerusalem has perhaps become more entrenched as its settlements around the city have got bigger.

Continued Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza has also hardened Israeli opposition to withdrawals in the West Bank.

The splits among Palestinians between Fatah and Hamas mean that no-one has an uncontested claim to lead the Palestinians.

Hamas, which won Palestinian Authority parliamentary elections in January 2006, is not represented at Annapolis at all.

What's going to happen at the meeting?

On Monday evening on the eve of the Annapolis gathering, President George W Bush held separate meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House. These bilateral talks might resume on Wednesday.

Also on Monday, Mr Bush gave a speech to heads of delegations during a dinner hosted by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

On the Tuesday, Mr Bush will host a three-way meeting with the two leaders at Annapolis and deliver a speech.

This will be followed by three closed-door working sessions on international support for the peace process, Palestinian economic development and institution building, and comprehensive Middle East peace.

What are the expectations for success?

It is not clear how the meeting might be judged since it has no concrete aims.

It may be that Mr Abbas and Mr Olmert will make a substantive joint statement on what the settlement they are working towards may eventually look like.

If not, then the Quartet - the US, Russia, EU and UN - may put on record what they see as the parameters for a deal that the international community might get behind.

Either of these might represent some kind of success, even if details are vague.

Less than this, the meeting may do little more than impart some sense of momentum to the peace process.

Critics of the meeting say the whole thing is little more than a photo opportunity, and the disappointment generated by its failure to come up with anything substantial may strengthen those opposed to compromise.



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