AAI: Washington Watch: The Peace Process on Life Support

Washington Watch: The Peace Process on Life Support, By James Zogby
December 3, 2007
 
 
The Annapolis Conference turned out to be much less than the "historic
breakthrough" hyped by official briefers and dutifully (or naively) echoed
in mainstream media.
 
In fact, Annapolis was only historic if one ignores the Madrid Conference of
1992.  Or if one discounts the significance of the Israeli-Palestinian
Accords signed in Oslo, Cairo, Paris, Washington, and Wye. Or the major
post-Oslo economic summits in Casablanca and Amman. Or even George Bush’s
own multi-nation gathering at Sharm el-Sheikh. In other words, Annapolis was
only historic if one either disregards history or discounts its importance.
 
Seen in this larger context, Annapolis, at best, represented a rather sad
and pale reminder of what was, what might have been, what was lost, and
several steps back from where the peace process was seven years ago.
 
One wants to be hopeful and supportive of every effort to end this horrible
conflict, securing for Palestinians their long-denied rights. Given what
transpired in the lead-up to Annapolis and at the Conference itself,
however, it’s hard to be optimistic.
 
In the six months since the Bush Administration announced the Conference,
too little preparation left the meeting, its agenda and goals, in limbo
until the final day.  And despite U.S. assurances to Arab participants that
Israel would make significant confidence building gestures toward the
Palestinians before the Conference, these did not occur.
 
Scrutinizing the joint statement issued by the parties at Annapolis, and
examining in close detail statements issued by President Bush and Israeli
Prime Minister Olmert, there was little indication of any real movement
toward a positive outcome. The goals set in the joint statement were too
vague and limited, and the rhetoric used by the two leaders reflected old
and failed hard-line policies that have brought stalemate for the last seven
years.
 
The joint Israeli-Palestinian statement reflected, in itself, the
fundamental dilemma plaguing this entire process. Both parties are
politically weak. The Israelis, however, are by far the dominant force, able
to dictate terms to their liking. Under these circumstances, the best
Palestinians can do is say "no." In this situation, for real substantive
negotiations to take place, a third party (presumably the U.S.) must be
willing and able to offer support to strengthen both the Israeli and
Palestinian leaders, and to balance the scale between them by protecting the
interests of the less powerful Palestinian negotiators. With the refusal of
the U.S. to play this role, the result is an ambiguous statement like the
one that was issued at Annapolis. In it, the best to which the Israelis and
Palestinians could agree was to negotiate "core issues" (which they could
not agree to define except to indicate that "core issues" referred to those
"specified in prior agreements" – which they also could not agree to
define); and to "make every effort to conclude an agreement before the end
of 2008." In other words, they could not agree to implement, but only to try
to agree.
 
For his part, Bush in his opening statement continued to espouse the same
neoconservative vision that has infected his entire approach to the Middle
East since 2002. In Bush’s view, democracy, like a magical elixir, trumps
justice, and therefore makes all things right. Given this, Palestinians, he
argued, should focus less on their borders and more on the character of
their state. In Bush’s view, then, the challenges facing Palestinians are
not to secure their rights and gain sovereignty, but to root out terror,
establish a working democracy, operate with transparency, and form the
institutions of a free society – all this before having a state of their
own!
 
Bush added requirements for the Israelis in this process, but they were
limited and far less onerous than even those he previously outlined. All the
Israelis were asked to do is to remove unauthorized outposts, end settlement
expansion, and "find other ways for the Palestinian Authority to exercise
its responsibilities without compromising Israeli security" – whatever that
means.
 
Israel’s Prime Minister, aside from some statements indicating his support
for a Palestinian state and his commitment to make "painful compromises" to
attain that goal, said little that would commit his government to steps that
would put at risk his already fragile government coalition. For example, in
one stroke, he defined away the refugee issue, proposing only to assist
Palestinian refugees to find their place in a future Palestinian state. In
another passage, Olmert describes his insistence that "previous agreements"
would serve as the "point of departure" for future negotiations. One of the
agreements he cited was President Bush’s letter to Ariel Sharon in June of
2004. This, of course, was no agreement at all, but a unilateral give-away
by the U.S. President to the Israeli Prime Minister.
 
In that letter, Bush commits to Israel:
 
*        support for actions Israel takes to defend itself against terrorism
(presumably including extrajudicial assassinations, the construction of a
separation wall and acts of collective punishment, etc.);
 
*        that in any future Israeli withdrawal, the U.S. understands that
"existing arrangements regarding control of airspace, territorial waters and
land passages…. will continue;"
 
*        that the refugee issue will be resolved by the settling of
Palestinian refugees in a future Palestinians state and not in Israel; and
finally
 
*        that "in light of new realities on the ground, including already
existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that
the outcome of final status negotiations" will result in Israel surrendering
these population centers, which include primarily the settlements ringing
Jerusalem.
 
Given all of this, it is hard to see a breakthrough, or be optimistic. The
Conference is over, the delegates have gone home, preparing to meet "to make
every effort" to complete an agreement. In a few days, major international
donors will gather in Paris to provide needed financial support to the
Palestinian Authority. That is a good thing.
 
The process is not dead; but absent a significant change in the U.S.
approach, it’s barely on life support.
 
Washington Watch is a weekly column written by AAI President James Zogby.
The views expressed within this column do not necessarily reflect those of
the Arab American Institute.
 
We invite you to share your views on the topics addressed within Dr. Zogby’s
weekly Washington Watch by emailing jzogby@aaiusa.org.
 
Arab American Institute
1600 K Street, NW Suite 601
Washington, DC 20006
www.aaiusa.org
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Also, thanx for signing my petitions, et al, please consider sharing them. Also, since Admin. of change.org aren't allowing me to invite people to do my actions lately and are switching my urls for my petitions so when I invite people off their site they can't get to the petition either (ergo 3 possible urls for each petition), here's a few of my latest actions; do as few or as many as you'd like (there are 3 linx for each petition because admin. switches between the 3 of them so people trying to sign the petition can‘t get to it): This post on Disabled Greens News and discussion: Haiti disaster anniversary, please, do what you can: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/DisabledGreensNews/message/9033 This petition on change.org: Haiti disaster anniversary: http://www.change.org/petitions/view/haiti_disaster_anniversary_2?share_id=yIpWHEHxri&pe=pce http://uspoverty.change.org/petitions/view/haiti_disaster_anniversary_2 http://www.change.org/petitions/view/haiti_disaster_anniversary_2   This post on Disabled Greens News and discussion: Green, Indigenous, Native American, etc., actions: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/DisabledGreensNews/message/9026 This petition on change.org: Green, Indigenous, Native American, acts: http://www.change.org/petitions/view/green_indigenous_native_american_acts?share_id=NHvTtQadfP&pe=pce http://uspoverty.change.org/petitions/view/green_indigenous,_native_american_acts http://www.change.org/petitions/view/green_indigenous,_native_american_acts   This post on Disabled Greens News and discussion: Art/Act: celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, holiday: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/DisabledGreensNews/message/9024 This petition on change.org: Art/Act: celebrate Dr. M.L. King, Jr.'s holiday: http://www.change.org/petitions/view/artact_celebrate_dr_ml_king_jrs_holiday?share_id=QjOkAUGeBQ&pe=pce http://uspoverty.change.org/petitions/view/art_act_celebrate_dr_ml_king_jr_s_holiday http://www.change.org/petitions/view/art_act_celebrate_dr_ml_king_jr_s_holiday   This post on Disabled Greens News and discussion: Green; NA; the evolution; Civil, Human, LP, Prisoner's Rights; Poverty; etc..: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/DisabledGreensNews/message/9022 This petition on change.org: Economically empower through advocacy: http://www.change.org/petitions/view/economically_empower_through_advocacy?share_id=WZNqBQWcXE&pe=pce http://uspoverty.change.org/petitions/view/economically_empower_through_advocacy http://www.change.org/petitions/view/economically_empower_throug
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