By Uri Avnery
“The Tumult and the shouting dies, / The captains and the kings depart…” Rudyard Kipling wrote in his unforgettable poem “Lest We Forget” (”Recessional”)
King George departed even before the tumult had died. His helicopter carried him away over the horizon, just as his trusty steed carries the cowboy into the sunset at the end of the movie. At that moment, the speeches in the assembly hall were still going ahead at full blast.
This summed up the whole event. The final statement announced that the United States will supervise the negotiations, act as a referee of the implementation and as a judge throughout. Everything depends on her. If she wants it — much will happen. If she does not want it — nothing will happen.
That bodes ill. There is no indication that George Bush will really intervene to achieve anything, apart from nice photos. Some people believe that the whole show was put on to make poor Condoleezza Rice feel good, after all her efforts as Secretary of State have come to naught.
Even if Bush wanted to, could he do anything? Is he capable of putting pressure on Israel, in the face of vigorous opposition from the pro-Israel lobby, and especially from the Christian-Evangelist public, to which he himself belongs?
A friend told me that during the conference he watched the televised proceedings with the sound turned off, just observing the body language of the principal actors. That way he noticed an interesting detail: Bush and Olmert touched each other many times, but there was almost no physical contact between Bush and Mahmoud Abbas. More than that: during all the joint events, the distance between Bush and Olmert was smaller than the distance between Bush and Abbas. Several times Bush and Olmert walked ahead together, with Abbas trailing behind.
That’s the whole story.
Sherlock Holmes said in one of his cases that the solution could be found in “the curious incident of the dogs in the night-time.” When it was pointed out to him that the dogs did nothing, he explained: “That was the curious incident.”
Anyone who wants to understand what has (or has not) happened at Annapolis will find the answer in this fact: the dogs did not bark. The settlers and their friends were keeping quiet, did not panic, did not get excited, did not distribute posters of Olmert in SS uniform (as they had done with Rabin after Oslo). All in all, they contented themselves with the obligatory prayer at the Western Wall and a smallish demonstration near the Prime Minister’s residence.
This means that they were not worried. They knew that nothing would come out of it, that there would be no agreement on the dismantling of even one measly settlement outpost. And on the forecast of the settlers’ leaders one can rely in such matters. If there had been the slightest danger that peace would result from this conference, they would have mobilized their followers en masse.
The Hamas movement, on the other hand, did organize mass demonstrations in Gaza and the West Bank towns. The Hamas leaders were very worried indeed.
Not because they were afraid that peace would be concluded at the meeting. They were apprehensive of another danger: that the only real aim of the meeting was to prepare the ground for an Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip.
Ami Ayalon, a former admiral who once posed as a man of peace, and who is now a Labor member of the cabinet, appeared during the conference on Israeli TV to say so quite openly: he was in favor of the conference because it legitimizes this operation.
The line of thought goes like this: In order to fulfill his obligation under the Road Map, Abbas must “destroy the terrorist infrastructure” in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. “Terrorism” means Hamas. Since Abbas is unable to conquer the Gaza Strip himself, the Israeli army will do it for him.
True, it may be costly. In the last few months, a lot of arms have been flowing into Gaza through the tunnels under the border with Egypt. Many people on both sides will lose their lives. But “What can you do? There is no alternative.”
It may be that in retrospect, the main (if not the only) outcome of Annapolis will be this: the conquest of the Gaza Strip in order to “strengthen Abbas”.
Hamas, in any case, is worried. And not without reason.
In preparation for such a confrontation, the Hamas leaders have become even more shrill in their opposition to the meeting, to which they were not invited. They denounced Abbas as a collaborator and a traitor, reiterating that Hamas would never recognize Israel nor accept a peace agreement with it.
I can picture in my mind a conference of the opponents of the proposed peace process, a kind of anti-Annapolis. Not the routine meeting planned by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran, to which only Muslims will be invited, but a joint meeting of all extremists on both sides. Khalid Mashal and Ismail Hanieh will sit opposite Avigdor Liberman, Effi Eytam and Benny Elon, and deliberate together how to frustrate the “Two-State solution”.
If I were invited to moderate this conference, I would start like this: Gentlemen (Ladies will not be present, of course), let us begin by summing up the points on which there is agreement, and only afterwards deal with the points in dispute.
So: all of you agree that the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River will become one state (general agreement). You, Palestinian gentlemen, agree that the Jews will enjoy full equality (agreement on the Palestinian side of the table). And you, Israeli gentlemen, agree that Arabs will enjoy full equality (agreement on the Israeli side of the table). And, of course, you do agree that there will be full freedom of religion for all (general agreement).
If this is the situation, gentlemen, then the only remaining disagreement concerns the name — whether to call the state Palestine or Israel. Is it worthwhile to quarrel and spill blood about that? Let’s agree on a neutral name, something like Isrestine or Palael.
Back to the White House: if the three leaders agreed there in secret deliberations that the Israeli army will invade the Gaza Strip, that is very bad news.
It would have been better to get Hamas involved — if not directly, then indirectly. The absence of Hamas left a yawning gap at the conference. What is the sense in convening 40 representatives from all over the world, and leaving more than half the Palestinian people without representation?
The more so since the boycott of Hamas has pushed the organization further into a corner, causing it to oppose the meeting even more vociferously and incite the Palestinian street against it.
Hamas is not only the armed body that now dominates the Gaza Strip. It is first of all the political movement that won the majority of the votes of the Palestinian people in democratic elections — not only in the Gaza Strip, but in the West Bank, too. That will not change if Israel conquers the Strip tomorrow. On the contrary: such a move may stigmatize Abbas as a collaborator in a war against his own people, and actually strengthen the roots of Hamas in the Palestinian public.
Olmert said that first of all the “terrorist infrastructure” must be eliminated, and only then can there be progress towards peace. This totally misrepresents the nature of a “terrorist infrastructure” — regrettable from a person whose father (like Tzipi Livni’s father) was a senior Irgun “terrorist”. It also shows that peace does not head the list of his aspirations because that statement constitutes a deadly land-mine on the way to an agreement. It is putting the cart in front of the horse.
The logical sequence is the other way round: First of all we have to reach a peace agreement that is acceptable to the majority of the Palestinians. That means (a) to lay the foundations for a State of Palestine whose border will run along the green Line (with limited swaps of territory) and whose capital will be East Jerusalem, (b) to call upon the Palestinian people to ratify this agreement in a referendum, and (c) to call upon the military wing of Hamas to lay down their arms or to be absorbed into the regular forces of the new state, similarly to what happened in Israel, and join the political system in the new state.
If there were an assurance that this is the way things will go ahead, there is still a reasonable chance of convincing Hamas not to obstruct the process and to allow Abbas to manage it — as Hamas has agreed in the past.
Why? Because Hamas, like any other serious political movement, is dependent on popular support. At this point, with the occupation getting worse from day to day and all the routes to peace seemingly blocked, the Palestinian masses are convinced that the method of armed resistance, as practiced by Hamas, is the only one that offers them any hope. If the masses become convinced that the political path of Abbas is bearing fruit and is leading to the end of the occupation, Hamas, too, will be compelled to change course.
Unfortunately, the Annapolis conference did nothing to encourage such hopes. The Palestinian public, like the Israeli one, treated it with a mixture of distrust and disdain. It looks like an empty show run by a lame duck American president, whose only remaining pleasure is to be photographed as the leader of the world. And if Bush gets the UN resolution he wants to hide behind — another resolution that nobody will take seriously — it will not change anything.
Especially if it is true, as reported in the Israeli press, that the Israeli government is planning a huge expansion of the settlements, and if the army chiefs start another bloody war, this time in Gaza.
Then did this spectacle have no positive side at all? Will it be forgotten tomorrow, as dozens of other meetings in the past have been forgotten, so only people with an exceptional memory are aware they ever happened?
I am not sure that this is so.
True, it was only a waterfall of words. But in the lives of nations, words, too, have their value.
Almost the whole of humanity was represented at this conference. China. India. Russia. Europe. Almost all Arab governments lent their support. And in this company, it was solemnly resolved that peace must be established between Israel and an independent and viable State of Palestine. True, the terms were not spelled out, but they were hovering over the conference. All the participants knew what they were.
The representatives of the Israeli mainstream joined — at least pro forma — this consensus. Perhaps they did so tongue in cheek, perhaps only as a ploy, perhaps as an act of deceit. But as our sages said ages ago: he who accepts the Torah not because of itself will in the end accept it for itself. Meaning: if somebody accepts an idea from tactical calculation he will be compelled to defend it, and in the end he will convince himself. Even Olmert has already declared on his way home: “Without the Two-State Solution, the State of Israel is finished.”
In connection with this, a competition between cabinet members is already developing, and that is a good sign. Tzipi Livni has set up more than a dozen committees of experts, each one charged with dealing with a particular aspect of peace, from the division of water to the allocation of television channels. (For those with a good memory: this is happening 50 years after I proposed the setting up of exactly such an apparatus, which I called the “White General Staff”, as opposed to the “Khaki General Staff”).
True, the Annapolis conference was no more than a small step, taken under duress. But it was a tiny step in the right direction.
The consciousness of a large body of people changes only in a long and slow process, at an almost geological pace. This cannot be detected with the naked eye. But, as Galileo Galilei murmured to himself: “And yet it does move!”
-Uri Avnery is a peace activist, journalist, and writer.