The fact that the Israeli delegation to last week’s Annapolis conference accepted the inclusion in the Joint Understanding of a pledge to “confront terrorism and incitement, whether committed by Palestinians or Israelis,” is simply astonishing. Ehud Olmert’s talk of a distinction between “Israel” and “Israelis” notwithstanding, it can only reasonably be interpreted as an Israeli acknowledgement that it is responsible for terrorism and incitement. But there can be no equivalence, moral or otherwise, between Israeli military operations and Palestinian terrorist campaigns. And the charge that Israel engages in incitement is one that even the Palestinians themselves have been unable to substantiate. So hard-pressed for examples was the Palestinian Authority’s State Information Service that its July 2003 report into the matter listed what amounted to rather unremarkable observations on the Palestinian political scene as official Israeli incitement. Included, for instance, was Moshe Katsav's comment that “the peace process will fade out as long as Arafat enjoys a high rank” and Ariel Sharon's declaration that “Arafat undermines Abbas's government because he continues to control most of the Palestinian security forces and the finances of the PA.” Defining such statements as incitement strips the expression of meaning.
It might be argued that guilt distribution of this kind is a necessary part of any mediation process and has been part of US-sponsored peace efforts since the Mitchell Commission convened one month into the ‘second intifada.’ Indeed, it was Mitchell’s May 2001 report that first sought a balance of blame on violence and incitement by demanding that “both sides ... immediately implement an unconditional cessation of violence” and “identify, condemn and discourage incitement in all its forms.” This approach was then adopted by the April 2003 “Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution” which called for a halt to Palestinian “armed activity and acts of violence against Israelis” and “an immediate end to [Israeli] violence against Palestinians;” it also demanded that “all official Israeli institutions end incitement against Palestinians” and “all official Palestinian institutions end incitement against Israel.”
But the then-Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, rejected the Quartet’s blame-balancing game. The first of the 14 ‘reservations’ he attached to the Roadmap demanded that “as in the other mutual frameworks, [it] will not state that Israel must cease violence and incitement against the Palestinians.” And in also insisting that the settlement issue would be dealt with on “a separate track,” he frustrated the Roadmap’s attempt to establish an equivalence of guilt between Palestinians and Israelis through implicitly equating the continuation of terrorism with the construction of settlements. For in an effort to make reciprocal the requirements of its Phase One, the Roadmap offset its demand for an end to Palestinian terrorism with a demand for an Israeli settlement freeze, calling for the parallel “dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure” and the “dismantling of settlement outposts constructed since March 2001,” and requiring that the freezing by Arab states of “public and private funding ... for groups supporting and engaging in ... terror” be accompanied by the freezing by Israel of “all settlement activity including natural growth.” This meant that Israeli concessions on the settlement issue could only be interpreted as a quid pro quo for ending terrorism, a sort of ‘no bombs, no bungalows’ arrangement which equated the building of houses with the taking of lives.
Ahmed Qureia, the chief Palestinian negotiator at Annapolis, certainly takes this view, describing the settlements in March 2005 as “a kind of terror against the peace process and against the Palestinian people.” And, in signing the Joint Understanding, Ehud Olmert has now allowed him to define defensive IDF actions in a similar way. Post-Annapolis, Palestinian attacks on Israelis are no longer unwarranted acts of terrorism, but the mere countering of violence with violence; not unlawful acts of aggression but legitimate self-defense and/or deterrence. This was too high a price for an agreement.