Hasan Afif El-Hasan: Yet Another Peace Conference!

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

Conferences, meetings, summits, initiatives and envoys became the life support of the so called peace in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict since 1991. Peace is a big industry in the Middle East today, but not real peace. Ask the frustrated Palestinians standing in lines for hours at the more than 500 checkpoints and roadblocks that Israel operates in the West Bank or the expatriates stranded at the border with Egypt trying to return to their homes in Gaza. Or ask the three generations of refugees living stateless in camps. There is too much talk on confidence building between Abbas and Olmert these days, twice a month at least, but nothing on the main issues, borders, the refugees and Jerusalem. I wonder how they spend the two-hour sessions without discussing the issues! May be how to strangle their common enemies, those Palestinians who do not recognize the Jewish only settlements!

There are only two solutions to the conflict. One based on applying the uniform set of laws as established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Charter. The alternative is a solution based on military and political power where the stronger party will prevail over the weaker. Unfortunately, Israel opted for the traditional Zionist strategy of “might makes right”. Israel has continued to follow a strategy based on the notion that it must use its military power to grab Palestinian land and keep it because it can. Under Labor or Likud, the borders of Israel have been expanding by building settlements and confiscating land in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem area.

President Bush has recently proposed another peace conference to be convened in November without specifying the location, the agenda or the goals. Why! Another conference will not bring peace. The US is the only powerful player that has influence on Israel in any dialogue that could eventually lead to a solution and the US does not need a conference to talk to Israel. President Eisenhower did not have to convene a conference when he sent a letter to Ben-Gurion demanding Israeli withdrawal from conquered Sinai after the 1956 Israeli-British-French invasion of Egypt. But, unlike Eisenhower, Bush never was an honest broker in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Washington never tried to exercise its leverage to make any substantive progress toward achieving peace based on justice during George W. Bush presidency. Bush team has undermined the moral authority of the US in its dealings with the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The US sided publicly with the Israelis on the main contested issues, the refugees and the settlements. US practically have been financing the occupation and continue to defend Israel’s belligerence and its gross violations of the recognized international human rights as applied to the Palestinians.

Bush proposed in summer 2002 what he called “the Road Map” to peace as the best way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The plan was missing any reference to human rights or international law, the PA accepted it but Prime Minister Sharon had a total of 14 reservations about it. Israel in effect rejected the plan but the US gave private assurances that it would take the Israeli concerns into consideration in the plan implementation.

Mortimer Zuckerman, editor-in-chief of US News and World Report and the chairman of the Conference of Presidents was blunt in rejecting Bush plan. He referred to it as “road map to no where”. The powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) sponsored a letter to President Bush on Capitol Hill urging him not to put pressure on Israel regarding the “Road Map”. And in the same letter, they demanded that the Palestinians must follow the letter of the plan “security requirements before Israel had to make any concessions”. Bush does not need such a letter to support Israel! He was on board.

In March of 2007, the Arab League reissued a 2002 Saudi peace plan that offered Israel normal relations with all members of the Arab League if Israel withdraws from all the occupied territory including the Golan Heights. Israel rejected the main points in the initiative, namely the withdrawal from all the occupied territory and any compromise on the issue of the refugees “right of return”. As for the refugees, Prime Minister Olmert told the Jerusalem Post in March “I will not agree to any kind of responsibility for this problem. Full stop”. Instead of encouraging Olmert to embrace the proposal, Washington tried to pressure the Saudis to change the proposal because Israel did not like it. Secretary Rice counter proposal was to ask the Arabs to “begin reaching out to Israel”. She demanded that the Arabs drop clauses in the initiative pertaining to the right of return and withdrawal to 1967 borders.

The US proposed peace conference in November comes at the peak of the campaign season in the US when the presidential candidates from both parties are “competing to see who can be most strident in defense of the Jewish State”. AIPAC power to influence elections makes it too risky for presidential candidates or members of Congress to criticize Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians. No candidate dares claiming of being even handed in dealing with the Israelis and Palestinians. Senator Hillary Clinton said before a New York chapter of AIPAC, “..Israel is a beacon of what is right in a neighborhood overshadowed by the wrongs of radicalism, extremism, despotism and terrorism.” Senator Barak Obama was attacked by pro-Israel organizations and political opponents for talking about “Palestinian suffering”. He had to explain the “suffering” that he had been talking about. It was at the hands of their own Palestinian leaders not the Israelis, he said. Senator John McCain announced that “when it comes to the defense of Israel, we [the US] simply cannot compromise”.

Jimmy Carter said recently that “It’s almost politically suicidal…for a member of the Congress who wants to seek re-election to take any stand that might be interpreted as anti-policy of the conservative Israeli government.” Many public figures including prominent political analysts and journalists recognized that AIPAC and other pro-Israel hardliners in the US were the principal movers behind the Iraqi war. But they avoided open public discussion about the role of the supporters of Israel in the decision to invade Iraq “for fear of being labelled anti-Semite”. Jimmy Carter said it all at the risk of being called “anti-Semite”.

If there will be a conference, Abbas should not expect it to deliver a settlement the Palestinians could accept. It is time Abbas recognize his power base is not in Tel Aviv or Washington even if they were the return addresses of his paycheck. His power base is the Palestinian people, including those who do not agree on his policy. If Abbas and his lieutenants are serious about peace with justice, they should seek to strengthen their stand among their own people first by having peace with their fellow political opponents rather than attending another futile so called “peace conference”.

-The writer is a regular contributor to PalestineChronicle.com. 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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