Zogby: Mideast "Peace Process" on Life Support
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Zogby: Mideast "Peace Process" on Life Support
Via NY Transfer News Collective * All the News that Doesn't Fit
sent by Ed Pearl - Dec 5, 2007
Arab-American Institute via Red-Green Mailing List - Dec 3, 2007
The Peace Process on Life Support
By James Zogby
The Annapolis Conference turned out to be much less than the "historic
breakthrough" hyped by official briefers and dutifully (or naively)
echoed in mainstream media.
In fact, Annapolis was only historic if one ignores the Madrid
Conference of 1992. Or if one discounts the significance of the
Israeli-Palestinian Accords signed in Oslo, Cairo, Paris, Washington,
and Wye. Or the major post-Oslo economic summits in Casablanca and
Amman. Or even George Bush's own multi-nation gathering at Sharm
el-Sheikh. In other words, Annapolis was only historic if one either
disregards history or discounts its importance.
Seen in this larger context, Annapolis, at best, represented a rather
sad and pale reminder of what was, what might have been, what was lost,
and several steps back from where the peace process was seven years ago.
One wants to be hopeful and supportive of every effort to end this
horrible conflict, securing for Palestinians their long-denied rights.
Given what transpired in the lead-up to Annapolis and at the Conference
itself, however, it's hard to be optimistic.
In the six months since the Bush Administration announced the
Conference, too little preparation left the meeting, its agenda and
goals, in limbo until the final day. And despite U.S. assurances to
Arab participants that Israel would make significant confidence
building gestures toward the Palestinians before the Conference, these
did not occur.
Scrutinizing the joint statement issued by the parties at Annapolis, and
examining in close detail statements issued by President Bush and
Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, there was little indication of any real
movement toward a positive outcome. The goals set in the joint
statement were too vague and limited, and the rhetoric used by the two
leaders reflected old and failed hard-line policies that have brought
stalemate for the last seven years.
The joint Israeli-Palestinian statement reflected, in itself, the
fundamental dilemma plaguing this entire process. Both parties are
politically weak. The Israelis, however, are by far the dominant force,
able to dictate terms to their liking. Under these circumstances, the
best Palestinians can do is say "no." In this situation, for real
substantive negotiations to take place, a third party (presumably the
U.S.) must be willing and able to offer support to strengthen both the
Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and to balance the scale between them
by protecting the interests of the less powerful Palestinian
negotiators. With the refusal of the U.S. to play this role, the result
is an ambiguous statement like the one that was issued at Annapolis. In
it, the best to which the Israelis and Palestinians could agree was to
negotiate "core issues" (which they could not agree to define except to
indicate that "core issues" referred to those "specified in prior
agreements" - which they also could not agree to define); and to "make
every effort to conclude an agreement before the end of 2008." In other
words, they could not agree to implement, but only to try to agree.
For his part, Bush in his opening statement continued to espouse the
same neoconservative vision that has infected his entire approach to
East since 2002. In Bush's view, democracy, like a magical elixir,
trumps justice, and therefore makes all things right. Given this,
Palestinians, he argued, should focus less on their borders and more on
the character of their state. In Bush's view, then, the challenges
facing Palestinians are not to secure their rights and gain
sovereignty, but to root out terror, establish a working democracy,
operate with transparency, and form the institutions of a free society
- - all this before having a state of their own!
Bush added requirements for the Israelis in this process, but they were
limited and far less onerous than even those he previously outlined. All
the Israelis were asked to do is to remove unauthorized outposts, end
settlement expansion, and "find other ways for the Palestinian
Authority to exercise its responsibilities without compromising Israeli
security" - whatever that means.
Israel's Prime Minister, aside from some statements indicating his
support for a Palestinian state and his commitment to make "painful
compromises" to attain that goal, said little that would commit his
government to steps that would put at risk his already fragile
government coalition. For example,
in one stroke, he defined away the refugee issue, proposing only to
assist Palestinian refugees to find their place in a future Palestinian
state. In another passage, Olmert describes his insistence that
"previous agreements" would serve as the "point of departure" for
future negotiations. One of the agreements he cited was President
Bush's letter to Ariel Sharon in June of 2004. This, of course, was no
agreement at all, but a unilateral give-away by the U.S. President to
the Israeli Prime Minister.
In that letter, Bush commits to Israel:
* support for actions Israel takes to defend itself against
terrorism (presumably including extrajudicial assassinations, the
construction of a separation wall and acts of collective punishment,
* that in any future Israeli withdrawal, the U.S. understands
that "existing arrangements regarding control of airspace, territorial
waters and land passages.... will continue;"
* that the refugee issue will be resolved by the settling of
Palestinian refugees in a future Palestinians state and not in Israel;
* that "in light of new realities on the ground, including
already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to
expect that the outcome of final status negotiations" will result in
Israel surrendering these population centers, which include primarily
the settlements ringing Jerusalem.
Given all of this, it is hard to see a breakthrough, or be optimistic.
The Conference is over, the delegates have gone home, preparing to meet
"to make every effort" to complete an agreement. In a few days, major
international donors will gather in Paris to provide needed financial
support to the Palestinian Authority. That is a good thing.
The process is not dead; but absent a significant change in the U.S.
approach, it's barely on life support.
Washington Watch is a weekly column written by AAI President James
Zogby. The views expressed within this column do not necessarily
reflect those of the Arab American Institute.
We invite you to share your views on the topics addressed within Dr.
Zogby's weekly Washington Watch by emailing jzogby@xxxxxxxxxxx
Arab American Institute
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