Hasan El-Hasan: The Annapolis Conference

By Dr. Hasan Afif El-Hasan
Special to PalestineChronicle.com

Israeli Prime minister Ehud Olmert described Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recently with affection and admiration as one of the Palestinian leaders who “recognize Israel as a Jewish state”. This loaded statement qualifies Abbas as the best enemy Israel can have. An Israeli cabinet member even asked one of the Arab states that do not recognize Israel, not to be more Palestinian than the Palestinians [Abbas].

Then why is it necessary to hold a conference so that Abbas and Olmert can negotiate? They are good friends and neighbors and they get together every other week. The answer is simple and very troubling at the same time. It is because Abbas is not taken seriously by Israel to negotiate on behalf of people whom he supports starving to death. Only authentic leaders who stand up for every citizen of their constituency earn the respect of their enemies and are taken seriously.

Besides the Palestinians self inflected weaknesses, there are many signs that suggest the anticipated Annapolis Conference, if it took place, will end like the countless initiatives that have failed to end the occupation. The Israelis prefer the status quo, the so called moderate Arab states are too timid to have any influence on the Israeli policy makers and the US is not willing to pressure Israel to comply with the UN resolutions and international laws.

While Israel refuses to make any concessions to the Palestinians, Mahmoud Abbas and his chief negotiator have lowered the ceiling of their demands on behalf of the Palestinians in order to accommodate Ehud Olmert government plans to annex parts of the West Bank and Jerusalem in the final-status solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. As part of the accord that would be negotiated with Israelis ahead of the Annapolis conference, Abbas and Qureia offered on October 11, 07 that Israel would be able to keep parts of the West Bank in a peace deal if it was willing to give equal amount of territory in return. The land swap proposal had been suggested by Haim Ramon, a close Cabinet ally of Olmert.

What a coincidence that when the swap idea was floated by the Palestinian leaders, the Israeli military confiscated 279 acres of Palestinian land in the West Bank to continue the expansion of Jewish only settlements and divide the Palestinians into ghettos. The expropriated land belongs to residents of four Palestinian villages between Jerusalem and Jericho. In exchange for the West Bank land that Israel intends to keep in any final settlement, Israel is reportedly considering transferring to the Palestinians area separating the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in a final peace agreement. There should be no surprise since Abbas and Qureia were the architects of the infamous Oslo agreements. Even with this concession, the Israelis are not interested.

Haaretz reported Zalman Shovel, the Israeli ambassador to the US at the time of the 1991 Madrid Middle East Conference, described the upcoming conference as the “Annapolis charade”. Benjamin Netanyahu warned against compromising on the status of Jerusalem in the upcoming talks. Sixty-one Israeli lawmakers signed a petition against any concession to the Palestinians that would give them sovereignty of any parts of Jerusalem city or its outskirts in any future negotiations. The petition was aimed at Olmert’s talk about giving the Palestinians sovereignty over Shu’fat Refugee camp when he asked “if the camp is needed to remain in Israel”. The Israeli parties Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu threatened to leave the governing coalition in response to these remarks. By giving up Shu’fat Refugee Camp, an outlying neighborhood of East Jerusalem, Olmert meant he would unload “10,069 Palestinian refugees” from Israel thus improving the demographic balance in favor of the Jewish population.

John Dugard, the UN Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, said something everybody should have known about the sufferings of the Palestinians. He said, "the Quartet of Middle East negotiators are not dealing effectively with the issue of Palestinian human rights”. In an interview by the BBC World Service, Dugard said "Every time I visit [the occupied territories]; the situation seems to have worsened". He recommended that UN should pull out of the International Quartet, that the US put together to support President Bush’s plan for Middle East peace, unless the Quartet “pays due regard to deteriorating human rights conditions in the Palestinian territories”.

Tony Blair who had been the Prime Minister of Britain for eleven years has just learnt, after he became irrelevant as a policy maker, about “the depth of the Palestinians’ distress caused by the occupation” in his own words. According to the Independent, he was shocked by what he was told about conditions in Hebron and in the West Bank sector of the Jordan Valley. He found that Palestinian farmers are allowed to dig wells only a third as deep as the wells in the Jewish only agricultural settlements that have been built on Arab land. Now, he accepts the argument “that settlement expansion will soon make a Palestinian state unrealizable”. May be President Bush will admit he missed opportunity to create just peace in the Middle East when he is out of office like his old pal, Tony Blair. Mr. Blair was talking about the Palestinians living in Abbas power base, the West Bank, not the dispensable Palestinians in Gaza under Hamas.

Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls Gaza Strip, where forty percent of the Palestinians under occupation live, has been declared by Israel as “enemy entity” since September 18. The Israeli move that has been backed by the US and encouraged by Abbas government entails sealing all Gaza’s border crossings and tightening restrictions of its people movement to the West Bank and Egypt, turning off power and preventing medicine deliveries to its hospitals. Gaza has become a big jail since Israel withdrew its military and Jewish settlers and opted for daily military raids and air attacks. The 1.4 million residents of Gaza strip had been already under world wide economic sanctions since the Palestinians elected Hamas in 2006. The US had forced the international community to boycott the elected Palestinian political movement that refuses to recognize Israel’s “right to exist” until Israel recognizes a sovereign Palestinian state’s right to exist. Gazans daily lives could not be worse even before their strip has been designated “enemy entity”.

By joining Israel and the US in starving a constituency that he is negotiating on their behalf, Abbas is losing legitimacy as a leader and is weakened as a negotiator. Israel continues its policy of land grabbing, settlement expansion and violating the Palestinians’ civil rights as long as the US supports its actions. Even if the Israelis become reasonable and decided to negotiate in good faith, they will not take Abbas seriously for negotiating on behalf people he helps distroying.

-Born in Nablus, Palestine, Hasan Afif El-Hasan,Ph.D, is a political analyst and an author. He worked for 30-years in Avionics Engineering.

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