On the road again…

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The problem with the Annapolis ‘peace conference’ was that a) it had nothing to do with peace, and b) it was barely even a conference.  

Lasting a single day, what the Bush administration and its dependents in the Middle East managed to achieve at the Annapolis “get together” was a photo-op and a re-affirmation of the 2003 “roadmap” as the framework for resolving the conflict. For Israel and the U.S., this was a significant success – effectively, the Palestinian delegation led by President Mahmoud Abbas was pressured into submitting to every Israeli demand, receiving virtually nothing in return. This was no mean feat, requiring over a year of brutal collective punishment and the killing of nearly 700 Palestinians to first remove Hamas from office and destroy the Palestinian National Unity government and then to browbeat Abbas to the point where he is now effectively a collaborator with the occupation. For those concerned with reaching a just resolution of the conflict, however, the Annapolis summit was at best worthless, and most likely positively harmful, at least to the extent that Israel and the U.S. improved their image as “peacemakers” even as they did precisely nothing towards ending the occupation or the conflict.

First, let’s look at Annapolis on its own terms. Originally conceived in the aftermath of Hamas’ takeover of Gaza (.pdf) in June, the “principal motivation” behind the ‘Annapolis process’ was to strengthen Abbas at the expense of Hamas (it also served to boost the U.S.’ image in the Middle East and to provide “the necessary political cover to permit the Arab states to cooperate quietly with Israel on the Iranian front”). This was openly acknowledged at the time, and manifested itself at the summit through President Bush’s “war on terror” rhetoric – a “battle is under way for the future of the Middle East”, with “responsible Palestinian leaders” facing off against the “dark vision” of the “extremists”, and so on.

In this goal, the Annapolis process has so far proved fairly successful. As part of the broader U.S./Israeli policy of “improv[ing] life in the West Bank while making it miserable in Gaza” in an effort to coerce the Palestinians into support for Fatah over Hamas, the year of negotiations on Palestinian statehood promised at Annapolis could well be “an additional, perhaps crucial, way of boosting Mr Abbas”. Faced with the prospect, however unlikely, of a “political horizon” and an end to the conflict should they support Abbas, and the threat of brutal collective punishment should they stand behind Hamas, Palestinians would, so the reasoning goes, back Abbas. The logic is understandable, if shockingly callous in its treatment of human life. The ultimate aim of the process is to groom a leadership that would accept the kind of bantustan solution Israel is prepared to offer, and in the meantime to stretch out the “peace process” indefinitely, maintaining the status quo and further colonising the West Bank while preserving Israel’s image as a civilised, peace-seeking state abroad (particularly amongst the populations the matter, principally that of the United States).

Unfortunately, some basic level of cooperation between Hamas and Fatah is an unavoidable pre-requisite for any serious attempt at peace. As the International Crisis Group puts it, “Fatah/Hamas reconciliation and reunification of Palestinian territory ultimately are necessary for successful peacemaking”. Or as Daniel Levy, former Israeli peace negotiator and advisor to the governments of Ehud Barak and Yitzhak Rabin, explains,

“To the extent to which this process is about re-making Palestinian politics and defeating the bad guys, it is a misconceived process. Hamas will need to be part of the equation and until key actors accept and act upon that truth, actionable progress will remain painfully out of reach.”

The fact that the U.S. and Israel have explicitly conditioned political engagement with Abbas on the continued isolation of Hamas, despite the critical importance of intra-Palestinian unity to the success of any genuine attempt to solve the conflict, suggests an obvious conclusion: Annapolis was not a sincere attempt to end the conflict. In the words of Israeli journalist Zvi Bar’el,

“If Israel refuses to incorporate Gaza and include Hamas in the talks, there is no chance of reaching a solution – certainly not within a year. In such a case, it will keep clinging to the road map as a shield against reaching a deal.”

As Ha’aretz diplomatic correspondent Aluf Benn explained in the run-up to the summit, Israel’s policy at Annapolis was to “march in the no-man’s-land between talk and action”, conceding just enough to appease the U.S. and world opinion while not actually making any positive changes on the ground.

Essentially, there were two things that came out of Annapolis: a re-affirmation of the “roadmap” as the framework for resolving the conflict, and a much vaunted one year deadline for reaching a final settlement. The latter was nothing more than a gimmick: as Yitzhak Rabin once said, when it comes to the ‘peace process’, “no date is sacred“. The roadmap was itself scheduled for completion in 2005, over two years ago. The Annapolis summit was supposed to mark the half-way point towards a final-status agreement – Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams were meant to have produced a pre-summit declaration outlining the basic parameters for a final settlement to the conflict. They failed to do so, prompting the question:

“If the two teams could not agree, in the course of nearly two months, upon a short statement of the most basic parameters for a resolution…why would another eight months (as the Palestinian team wanted) or 14 (as Olmert suggested) help? After 15 years of on-again, off-again negotiations, why would time be the salient variable?”

The one-year ‘deadline’ is practically meaningless: a year is sufficiently distant to allow Olmert to keep the far-right hounds in his coalition at bay and to give his government an agenda, while his repeated insistence that any progress be conditional upon compliance with the roadmap gives him an escape clause to justify the inevitable failure to stick to the timetable: ‘it’s Israel’s fault that Annapolis wasn’t kept to, because the Palestinians didn’t abide by the terms of the roadmap.’

As mentioned above, the final document desperately agreed upon less than half an hour before the conference ended was effectively a re-affirmation of the roadmap. The final three paragraphs of the 437-word statement were devoted to it, and concluded:

“Unless otherwise agreed by the parties, implementation of the future peace treaty will be subject to the implementation of the road map, as judged by the United States.”

This probably signals the demise of the “Quartet”, handing authority over the Middle East “peace process” directly to the United States, which will of course treat both sides fairly and impartially. This is not, however, a particularly big deal, since the “Quartet” was dominated by the U.S. already.

The first phase of the roadmap requires Israel to freeze “all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements)” and dismantle all outposts, while the Palestinian leadership must “undertake visible efforts on the ground” and begin “sustained, targeted and effective operations” to thwart terrorist operations and dismantle “terrorist…infrastructure”.

These developments are supposed to happen in parallel, but Israel has never viewed it this way. As Tzipi Livny explained a few weeks ago, “the Palestinians will carry out their security responsibilities in the road map, and only then can Israel fulfill its part of the understandings”. Nothing seems to have changed since then – a draft (.pdf) of the pre-summit declaration (which was, as mentioned above, never completed) was leaked to Ha’aretz in the run-up to the conference. In it, the Israeli team objected to the American suggestion that “[t]he parties commit to immediate and parallel implementation of the Roadmap”, proposing that the phrase “immediate and parallel” be removed. Additionally, Israel has always interpreted the roadmap as calling for a complete end to Palestinian terrorism before anything is required of itself, despite the fact that, as The Economist notes, “the first stage calls on the Palestinian Authority (PA) to begin this process, not complete it.” Immediately after signing the roadmap in April 2003, Israel entered 14 reservations rendering it effectively meaningless. One of them stipulated that, “as a condition for progress to the second phase” (that is, a “transitional state”, possessing only some of the features of sovereignty), the Palestinians,

“will complete the dismantling of terrorist organizations (Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front, the Democratic Front, Al-Aqsa Brigades and other apparatuses) and their infrastructure; collection of all illegal weapons and their transfer to a third party for the sake of being removed from the area and destroyed; cessation of weapons smuggling and weapons production inside the Palestinian Authority; activation of the full prevention apparatus and cessation of incitement.”

Israel emphasised that  “[t]here will be no progress to the second phase without the fulfillment of all above-mentioned conditions”, and that “[t]he first condition for progress will be the complete cessation of terror, violence and incitement”. It was careful to add that “the road map will not state that Israel must cease violence and incitement against the Palestinians”. Finally, it insisted that “[a]ttention will be paid not to time lines, but to performance benchmarks (time lines will serve only as reference points).”

What this all amounts to, then, is a demand that the Palestinians provide Israel with complete security while remaining under occupation. This is absurd – as a British MP recently put it, the Israeli position is akin to “that of somebody who stands on somebody else’s toes and says that they will get off only when that person stops screaming.” The idea that the Palestinian Authority – which, as the International Crisis Group points out, Israel has “all but destroyed” in the past seven years, to the point where it can barely move a hundred policemen from one town to another because of Israeli checkpoints – can provide Israel with security under conditions of occupation when the IDF, the fourth ranking military on the planet, is unable to do so is, as Daniel Levy puts it, “a nonsense”. It is an impossible demand, and deliberately so. It is designed to be unachievable in order to provide Israel with an excuse to string out negotiations indefinitely while continuing its colonial policies on the ground.

Aside from the perversity of focusing so heavily on how the occupied Palestinians must provide Israel with security even as Israel is in the process of destroying the Gaza Strip, it is particularly offensive to revert back to the roadmap like this given that Israel has been violating the agreement from day one. As already noted, the day after signing the document, the Israeli government announced a series of “reservations” that effectively ripped it to shreds. Even setting that aside, Israel has never kept to even the most basic provisions of the roadmap, despite promising to do so on numerous occasions. Far from freezing all settlement construction, construction has never ceased – indeed, it continues as we speak. While Olmert did recently promise to halt all settlement-building in the West Bank, he was in fact referring only to the construction of new settlements (which is already non-existent). Expansion of existing settlements is set to continue – in Olmert’s words: “[w]e have no intention of strangling the existing settlements”. This is an explicit violation of the roadmap, which commits Israel to freezing all settlement construction, “including natural growth”.

The roadmap also prohibits Israel from the “confiscation and/or demolition of Palestinian homes and property, as a punitive measure or to facilitate Israeli construction”. Just last month, the Israeli army forced more than 200 Palestinians from their homes in the Hebron District and destroyed their village, refusing even to give the residents (most of whom are now homeless) leave to recover their belongings. A few weeks earlier, the IDF issued an order expropriating over 1,100 dunams of land from four Palestinian villages on the outskirts of East Jerusalem to enable Israeli development in the E-1 area, between East Jerusalem and the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim. These are just two recent examples that illustrate a wider point: Israel never intended to abide by the roadmap, it never has done and it shows absolutely no sign of doing so in the future.

It is for these reasons that the roadmap was recently described by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee as “an irrelevance” and why the Arab League last year insisted that the roadmap was “dead“. Even Ehud Olmert gave it a “much less than 50%” chance of success when it was launched (though, one suspects, for rather different reasons). That the Palestinian Authority and the Arab regimes have signed on to a process which ratifies the roadmap as the only framework for resolving the conflict in return for an agreement which addresses none of the core issues and which gives Israel a free hand to continue its oppressive and colonial policies in the Occupied Territories is nothing short of a betrayal of the Palestinian cause.

Cross-posted at The Heathlander

Further reading:

– ‘Shaking hands and stealing land‘, The Heathlander

– ‘In Annapolis, Conflict by Other Means‘, MERIP

– ‘Cinderella at Annapolis‘, The Economist


  1. on the ground:

  2. … I am experiencing such cognitive dissonance that I can barely come up with a coherent comment.

    I had virtually zero expectation that anything would come from this conference.  It was evidently clear, I think, that this was nothing more than, as you say, a “photo op.”

    Given that, the cognitive dissonance comes up when I realize that an essay from a blogger has exponentially more substance to it than the real world policies of those with the governmental power in this situation, e.g., Bush.

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