Novembre 24 2007 - At the moment of this writing, the Annapolis conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has not yet ended. Unfortunately however, there is no doubt that along with Madrid and Camp David, it will go down in history as another failed attempt to achieve long-term solutions to a 60 year-old conflict.
If as professed, the goal of the conference is for all sides to meet on a base to hear each other out and resolve the conflict by taking inspiration from the famous ‘Road Map for Peace’ and the two-state solution, it is doubtful that the three main players - Israel, Palestine and the United States - will be able to reach any agreement, much less come to a consensus.
The missing player
The first hurdle at Annapolis is the fact that by definition, a peace conference that doesn’t include all the protagonists cannot come to a valid agreement.
Hamas’ absence cannot be ignored. It was elected as the government of the Palestinian Authority on January 2006 and since last June it has been the only de facto authority in Gaza. As Israeli analyst Michel Warshawski notes, “a peace conference for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to which Hamas is not invited is not a peace conference, but a conference of war, against, among others, Hamas and a large part of the Palestinian population of Jordan and Gaza who voted a Hamas majority into the Palestinian Legislative Council.”
Annapolis - a Camp David remake?
Near the end of his term, Bill Clinton tried to leave his mark on history by reuniting President Arafat and Prime Minister Barak. The idea was to revive the Oslo Accords and work out a final resolution to the conflict. The resounding failure of this meeting and the deteriorating situation in Palestine and the surrounding region since 2000 does not bode well for future negotiations.
Since 2000, the situation has gone through a series of developments, not the least of which includes Arafat’s death and the destruction of the Palestinian Authority by the State of Israel. Abbas, Arafat’s successor, relinquished control of the Gaza Strip to Hamas and an important part of Jordan to the Israeli army (Tsahal). The latter allows him the illusion of control in Ramallah and occasionally Nablus. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and it main constituent Fatah are divided without a fixed ideology, clear political agenda or a rallying leadership. Meanwhile living conditions in Palestine are deteriorating daily, the construction of the ‘security’ barrier continues, illegal colonies keep growing and Israeli roads crisscross the region increasingly each week.
On the other hand, Israelis also have a fragile government that threatens to implode at any moment. Its military defeat to Lebanon in the summer of 2006 didn’t help. Added to that, persistent corruption allegations set against the permanent complexity of Israeli politics has left Prime Minister Olmert with a tenuous hold on his position as Zionist Chief of State.
It is important to keep in mind that the situation on the Israeli side is quite different from the one being experienced by the Palestinians. The latter has lost their land, lives under the yoke of Israeli occupation and suffers systematic impoverishment while the international community looks on indifferently. By contrast, the Israelis live under more bearable circumstances despite the climate of paranoia perpetuated by the Israeli press and government. So it’s the leaders of two ailing states that are meeting at the behest of a third nearing the end of term.
What good will it do to hold a conference in these conditions?
According to Michel Warshawski “the strategic context of the Annapolis conference is situated within the neo-conservative strategy for a global war against ‘the Islamic Threat’, or what the right-wing fundamentalist Christians who advise president George W. Bush call simply and without euphemism, ‘the war against Islam’. Hamas is nothing more than a target, along with Iran, Hezbollah, Lebanon and eventually Syria, even though the Syrian regime is a secular one that has massacred more Islamists than any other Middle Eastern state. But who cares? For certain implacable neo-conservatives in Bush’s coterie, all Arabs are Muslims, and all of Washington’s enemies are targets of the American crusade to defend the so-called Judeo-Christian civilization against the Islamic menace.”
Several others have come to the same conclusion as Warshawski, including the International Crisis Group (IGC) (1). IGC is a very moderate organization, it asserts that “the principal objective from the conference’s outset was to marginalize and weaken Hamas.” Nor is it a secret in the offices of the American administration. “If the Palestinian population doesn’t get the impression soon that a genuine Palestinian state is being put in place, the next generation will not support Fatah or even Hamas, but nihilists like Al-Qaeda,” stated a representative of the American administration recently.
Western governments became aware of this after the display of power by Hamas at Gaza. Suddenly, lines of credit for the Palestinian Authority reappeared, President Abbas became a worthy spokesman, the Quartet (2) nominated Tony Blair to restart the ‘Road Map’ and the idea for the Annapolis Conference was born. The objective is not to make peace with the Palestinians, but to continue the war against Hamas.
From their perspectives, Abbas and Olmert both hope to preserve their respective positions by pushing the issue forward. Abbas knows fully well that under the present circumstances, he will be unable to continue pretending to represent the Palestinian people for much longer. On his side, Olmert must offer a lasting peace to his fellow citizens to make them forget the defeat in Lebanon. But neither leader is up to the task of making the compromise that each other needs to declare success. A return to the 1967 borders, including East Jerusalem, is the minimum for Abbas and his team (several Palestinian mediators have made it clear that they are prepared to forgo the refugees’ right of return). For Olmert, ceding East Jerusalem would without a doubt split his coalition government and render any agreement null and void.
A perspective on Peace?
The Palestinian population will not take these negotiations seriously until they are duly represented in the talks and until they free of active submission by the occupying army.
If the international community truly wants to achieve peace on this front, it must stop enabling Israel’s non-compliance with international law. No serious peace negotiations can take place as long as we allow settlement colonies to grow and multiply, tolerate the imposition of collective punishment against the Palestinian population, or remain indifferent to the arbitrary imprisonment of thousands of Palestinian citizens and the shutting down of Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem, courses of action which do not at all threaten the security of Israel.
On the other hand, Palestinians must succeed in rebuilding unity because without a united power, they have no hope of having their fundamental rights recognized. In fact without unity, their only recourse will be to descend ever deeper into a plight that, the Zionists hope, will make them disappear from the face of the earth.
(1) ICG is a think-tank headed by some thirty political figures and financiers, including the multi-billionaire George Soros and several former ministers and ambassadors hailing mainly from the United States and Europe.
(2) The Quartet is an informal group composed of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the Secretary General of the UN who have been engaged in supervising the implementation of the ‘Road Map to Peace’.