By Hasan Afif El-Hasan
Special to PalestineChronicle.com
As much as the Palestinian people wished the Annapolis conference to succeed in ending the nightmare of the Israeli occupation, it was a big disappointment for them and embarrassment for the Arab leaders who promoted it especially the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas. The meeting turned out to be more about rhetoric, recycled slogans and promises, and nothing on specifics that may promise a breakthrough in the quest for peace. The only outcome of the conference was an agreement that the Palestinians and Israelis start implementing the defunct 2003 “Roadmap” peace plan, and the US would be the arbiter and the judge of both sides compliance to its requirements.
For few weeks before the conference, Abbas had been insisting that he would not attend the conference unless Israel froze the settlement activities, stopped building the separation wall and removed checkpoints and roadblocks Israel operates in the West Bank. He wanted a pre-conference joint document to address future borders, Jerusalem and the fate of the refugees. Arab states leaders talked about the need for having the UN resolutions and the Arab peace initiative as the basis for the conference and the negotiations that would follow. And the Syrians were adamant about their position that they would not attend unless the occupied Golan Heights issue was on the agenda. Then Abbas had second thought and started talking about the historic opportunity that should not be missed, and the Arab League foreign ministers decided to attend the meeting although all signs suggest the meeting would not produce any tangible results for the Palestinians.
Bush opening address to the conference did not even reach the low level of expectations while most of those who showed up to hear him and the Palestinians who watched him on the television had doubts about his sincerity. The key to any future peace process is the degree to which the US is prepared to intervene and bridge gaps when disagreements arise. But Bush declared his government would not play that role. He expects the two parties to negotiate and conclude a peace treaty on their own without interference by the US. They need to resolve all outstanding issues, including core issues, the borders, settlements, Jerusalem, the water resources and the refugees. Considering the stubbornness of Israel and the imbalance of power in its favor, the prospects of concluding an agreement short of complete surrender by the Palestinians is hard to reach without external pressure. Months of negotiations prior to the conference could not produce even a joint declaration.
They say negotiations are wars, but with different means. In any negotiations, each party employs its powers to extract concessions from the opposing party. Left alone, Israel as an occupier has all the powers including keeping the status quo that served its expansion policies well. The Palestinians have nothing other than their rights that are enshrined in humanitarian, morality, international laws and several UN resolutions. But unfortunately since the predominance of what has been known as “the peace process” that started in Oslo sixteen years ago, the legal principles have been marginalized by the US, the defender of Israel and the self-appointed catalyst and the peace-broker between the two parties. Thus the Palestinian people have lost the legal framework that defines their rights. The Palestinian negotiators suffer from another self-inflicted fatal weakness. They are not supported by a big sector of their constituency. The big demonstrations in the West Bank, Abbas power base, and Gaza against Annapolis conference put Abbas on notice that he was not authorized to make concessions on the main issues including Jerusalem.
President Bush asked the Palestinian negotiators in his speech to dismantle the infrastructure of the Islamic organizations, something they have been already trying to do in the West Bank in cooperation with the Israeli military machine. He referred to the Palestinians only as moderates and extremists rather than victims under occupation seeking their rights to determine their future. The so called “extremists” according to the US are those organizations that resist American and Israeli policies. Bush pledged the US support to the security of Israel as a Jewish state for all the Jewish people but the only thing he pledged for the Palestinians was helping establish democratic and free institutions. A Jewish state means no right of return for the refugees and the possibility of expelling the Israeli Arabs so that Israel retains Jewish majority. Bush further pledged that the US would not pressure any of the two sides, meaning he would not pressure Israel to make any concession.
Israel, the strong party, left alone, will impose rather than negotiate. Its policy has been to use its military power to grab the occupied lands and violate the human rights of a conquered people. The US had sided with Israel on the core issues. President Bush had already supported Israel on the refugees and the settlement issues. He asked the Arab states delegates to normalize relations with Israel and recognize it as Jewish state.
Bush was portrayed as a peace maker just by talking about peace, but the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was the actual winner because he received unearned praise from Abbas when he described him as a man who wanted peace even while his military occupies what is left of Palestine. Ma’ariv newspaper declared that Olmert was the winner in Annapolis and peace was the big loser. His performance in the conference had good impression on his partners in his government. He made no concessions and kept his shaky coalition intact. Two parties in his five-party government oppose giving up West Bank territory or control over any part of Jerusalem.
If Olmert has any desire for peace it would be on his own terms. The separation wall is being built and 1.4 million Palestinians in Gaza are denied access to the outside world and starved to death under a draconian blockade. Olmert has 11,000 Palestinians in his jails, but he asked his audience in the conference to grief with him the three Israeli soldiers that have been captured by the Palestinians and the Lebanese. He wanted peace according to his interpretation to 242 and 338 UN Resolutions and the 2004 Bush letter to then Prime Minister Sharon.
The Israeli and US position is that Resolution 242 does not call for Israeli withdrawal from all the occupied lands. They maintain that according to the Resolution Israel effectively can keep usable territory and resources of the occupied lands but may not want to administer the population centers, so these should be assigned to the Palestinian Authority to rule. Bush pledged in writing that the US would support in the final peace agreement the annexation of the large settlement blocks to Israel and no right of return for the refugees.
Hours after the conclusion of the Annapolis meeting, Olmert told the news media that Israel is not bound to carry out any agreement before the Palestinians crack down on the Islamic organizations and dismantle their infrastructure in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as specified in the “Road map”. He added that the holy site (Temple Mount) in Jerusalem is excluded from any negotiations and Israel was not bound by any timetable for reaching a final settlement. This is contrary to the agreement reached in Annapolis that set the end of 2008 for the parties to forge a peace treaty and create a Palestinian state. Olmert nullified the only explicit achievement reached in the conference. His three preconditions confirm the perception that Israel will not honor its commitment to a peaceful solution. In the meantime the Israeli military continues killing and arresting Palestinians on daily basis and expand settlements and expropriate land. Only one week after the conference, the Israeli government put out tenders to build 300 new houses in the Jerusalem-area settlement of Har Homa.
Two days after the conference was concluded, the US presented a resolution to the UN Security Council for nonbinding endorsement of the Middle East peace talks agreed in Annapolis. The resolution was withdrawn immediately after Israel objected to it despite its passive language and its benefits for backing the Annapolis accords with the power of international law. The US draft said the council "endorses the programme of action for negotiations and implementation of outstanding obligations … agreed upon by the Israeli and Palestinian leadership at Annapolis, Maryland on November 27, 2007". The Foreign Minister of Israel, Tzipi Livni, said her government considered the relaunch of the peace process to be solely a matter between Israel and the Palestinians and even the Arab States should not interfere.
Most likely nothing will be achieved by the negotiations that will follow the conference. The question is what will happen when (not if) the negotiations fail to produce an agreement or an agreement will be reached but, like many others before, it will not be implemented. Such a failure will sweep away any justification for Abbas political platform that rests on the US and Israel’s goodwill to produce a just settlement for his people.
Then, the honorable course of action for Abbas and his governing elites is to apologize to the Palestinians, declare failure and resign, but such action will not happen because of two reasons. First, relinquishing power, even if there is no real power, by resigning from office is not a tradition in the Arab countries. Some Palestinians will urge Abbas to resign but many others, whose personal fortunes are dependent on keeping him in office, will council him otherwise, and he certainly will not resign. If the corrupt and incompetent architects of Oslo fiasco never surrendered power when the Palestinian People in the occupied land rejected them in the last legislation elections, they will never give up the spoils of power and resign if they fail to negotiate a just peace for the Palestinians.
Second and most important, Israel and the US will never abandon their man, Abbas, and his team because they will not find better Palestinians to serve their interests. Abbas is needed to continue the fight against the Palestinian resistance that may threaten Israel’s security and he is the most likely to eventually accept peace on Israel’s terms. The Palestinian Authority under Abbas and Fayyad including its security apparatus has become an agency of Israel and the US, suppressing the right of resistance against occupation.
Given the tax money which Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians and some financial and material aid from the US, Abbas can deliver the West Bank elite beneficiaries of his regime and the middle class government employees who are dependent on their salaries to provide for their families livelihood. The support of the middle class is essential for the survival of any regime in any country. As for the political opposition in the West Bank, his security forces can be equipped and trained to control it in cooperation with the Israeli military, but the opposition will not lie down without a fight especially since his regime loses legitimacy after its failure to produce a settlement.
The failure of the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations in 2000 triggered the second Intifada against the Israeli occupation, but the failure in 2007 will most likely trigger violence by Palestinians against Palestinians, a re-run of their in-fighting during the 1936-39 revolt against the British. The civil war in 1936 led to the abeyance of the national movement and the triumph of Zionism in 1948, but a civil war in 2007 will seal the fate of the Palestinians’ national cause and the completion of the Zionist colonialists’ project.
-Born in Nablus, Palestine, Hasan Afif El-Hasan, PhD, is a political analyst and an author. He worked for 30-years in Avionics Engineering.