By Sonja Karkar
Special to PalestineChronicle.com
Although "never-never" has long been used to describe the remote outback of Australia, the term is also known as fantasyland, especially when someone dreams about a utopian future – an apt description of what has been going on in Annapolis. The staged seriousness of the moment was well illustrated when an unusually be-spectacled US President George Bush read the joint understanding that said nothing more than what has been said so many times before. Yet, Israel’s Prime Minister Olmert was determined not to lose the photo opportunity and insisted that it capture the President shaking hands with him and Palestinian President Abbas. For Israel, nothing was lost and time gained. For the Palestinians, peace was left hanging in the "never-never".
The essence of that joint understanding requires Israel and the Palestinians to commit to ongoing talks and to implement immediately their obligations under the more than 5-year-old performance-based Road Map, until a peace treaty is reached, as judged by the US. This Road Map to a permanent two-state solution was supposed to reach "a final and comprehensive settlement of the Israel-Palestinian conflict by 2005." It did not, and two years later, the parties are still only committing to a process that the US hopes will see a permanent status agreement by the end of 2008.
For the Palestinians, this is just more of the same, but with evermore dire consequences. They have already met their obligations: Israel has not. The Roadmap explicitly states that "the parties are expected to perform their obligations in parallel". But, while the Palestinians reiterated Israel’s right to exist in peace and security, called for a ceasefire, called for the ending of armed activities against Israelis, and conducted institutional and economic reforms, Israel continued its military assaults on the occupied territories, continued to build illegal settlements and expropriate Palestinian land, and did nothing but pay lip service to removing the draconian grid of checkpoints that suffocate the Palestinian population.
As recently as 19 November, Olmert said that Israel would not "build new settlements" or "expropriate lands" and that it was committed to "dismantling the illegal outposts."  Yet, Israel has already expropriated more than 40 per cent of West Bank land and has reserved it for settlements and their expansion: it is on that very land that Olmert will allow the building of settlement "neighbourhoods" to continue. According to the Road Map, there is no distinction between legal or illegal outposts because all Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and so the freeze on building applies to all Palestinian territory occupied by Israel in 1967, including East Jerusalem. However, there is no freeze and never has been.
There is nothing the Palestinians can do to stop Israel going full steam ahead with the whole settlement enterprise and there is no international body prepared or game enough to stop Israel as long as the US gives it the green light. For all the talk of peace and expectations that the Palestinians must comply with their obligations, Israel continues to give subsidies and economic incentives for settlers and authorises the urban planning of settlements. If Palestinian homes or agricultural land are in the way, they are demolished, destroyed and confiscated. Israel has the military might to enforce whatever it wants without fear of any damaging retribution or being reined in. There is absolutely no bona fide intention on Israel’s part to adhere to any of its obligations which makes the whole Annapolis charade and its timetable of negotiations, an exercise in futility.
This is not a conflict between two equals. The Palestinians are under Israel’s military occupation and ought never to have agreed to take part in the talks while Israel remains their keeper. Already, Olmert has condescendingly referred to Abbas as "a weak partner, who is not capable" and who most likely will have to be given the tools "to reach an understanding on the guidelines for an agreement."  His words show no respect for a negotiating partner, but rather disdain towards an inferior who will have to toe the line. The US might be standing between them as interlocutor, but with the staggering billions of economic and military aid that it showers on Israel annually, Abbas can expect no fairness on the real issues.
Palestinians everywhere must be wondering just what sort of freedom, peace and hope, President Bush has in mind for them. It was quite disconcerting to hear the President suggest that millions across the Middle East would be inspired "when liberty takes root on the Iraqi soil of the West Bank and Gaza " Was he thinking about Iraq or Gaza, or did he not know the difference? Abbas, however, did address his people in Gaza and referred to their "hours of darkness" and that their suffering would end when "right and peace will prevail." All these lofty words though are empty echoes as more than a million people in Gaza gasp in isolation under the punishing sanctions that Israel and the world have visited on them. Olmert showed no compassion and only sought to isolate them further when he described a place of terror under the rule of Hamas
The Palestinians might as well have been on a distant planet because Olmert made it clear that he came "not in order to settle historical accounts" despite their suffering for many years and "living for decades in camps, disconnected from the environment in which they grew up . . ." In effect, he was saying that Israel is not responsible and that Israel would not accept the refugees right of return to their original homes under United Nations resolution 194. Their future, according to Olmert, would be in an agreed-upon Palestinian state, and by that we can infer, within borders of Israel’s choosing. This would effectively put the seal on their dispossession and force them to surrender their inalienable rights. There was no mention of Jerusalem.
In all these proceedings, the United Nations was sidelined. And this is despite its role in the partitioning of Palestine in 1947, and then its subsequent passing of many resolutions in favour of the Palestinians. This became very apparent the next day when the US withdrew a resolution put before the UN Security Council endorsing the Annapolis agreement to reach a peace settlement by the end of 2008. According to Israel’s deputy ambassador Daniel Carmon, it was not the proper venue because "we feel that the appreciation of Annapolis has other means of being expressed than in a resolution." US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, said there was "no reason to gild the lily" and Abbas saw it as a sign "of an American position supporting the negotiations." It seems that this "momentous decision" had to be saved from UN dilution because "the positive results of Annapolis speak for themselves." 
One does not have to look hard for evidence of Israel’s oppressive military practices against the Palestinians. But, the world does have to look hard at itself and ask why it has allowed a man-made human catastrophe to go on relentlessly for 60 years without a whimper of protest against Israel. Even a cursory look at the last 16 years of peace talks, beginning with the Oslo preliminaries, would show that Annapolis is nothing more than another delaying tactic that is intended to allow Israel to establish its Jewish state in all of Palestine. Experience tells us that this latest process will probably be as drawn out as all the others. And that about sums up a meeting that will now enter the realms of the "never-never" peace talks.
 "Olmert vows to halt new settlements", Mail & Guardian Online, 19
 Olmert to Haaretz: Two-state solution, or Israel is done for" by Aluf
Benn, David Landau, Barak Ravid and Shmuel Rosner, Haaretz, 28 November
 "US withdraws Mideast resolution at UN" by Edith M Lederer, Associated
Press Writer with Matthew Lee contributing, Yahoo News, 1 December 2007.