The Annapolis peace conference has come and gone, the dilemma it was meant to resolve has only gotten worse, and the Palestinian Authority (PA) has sunk ever deeper into the bog of internal recrimination, self-division and political intransigence. Annapolis—or as I prefer to call it, PAnnapolis—proved only that, whatever concessions the Israelis put on the table and regardless of America’s indulgent brothering, the PA is not a viable negotiating partner. Indeed, it has, arguably, no interest whatsoever in brokering a peace agreement with Israel.
“What exactly do we want?” asks PA spokesperson Kiffah Radaya in a TV interview. She answers her question rather decisively. “It has been said that we are negotiating for peace, but our goal has never been peace. Peace is a means; and the goal is Palestine.” By which she means: Israel. Similarly, at the most recent PA General Assembly held in August 2009, speaker after speaker insisted on the right of “resistance,” the need to continue the “armed struggle” against the Jewish state, and the obligation to “liberate” Jerusalem. Rubbing salt in the wounds of Oslo, the Assembly ratified the terrorist Aksa Martyrs Brigade as Fatah’s official armed wing, despite the promise of the Fatah leadership to dismantle it.
Following the conclave, many newspapers trumpeted a new Fatah, ready to make peace with Israel. This is complete nonsense. What was renewed was Fatah intransigence, as was made patently obvious by the election of younger hardliners like Marwan Barghouti, Tawfik Tirawi. Jibril Rajoub and Muhammad Dahlan who are determined to pursue “the struggle” against “the occupation.” As Arab-Israeli political journalist Khaled Abu Toameh writes, “It’s unrealistic to expect changes in Fatah’s policies now that the younger leaders are sitting in the Central Committee.” In fact, the latter three served “as Yasser Arafat’s henchman and enforcers.” On all important issues, he continues, “there’s almost no difference” between young guard activists and their older compatriots.
The obsessive focus on Israel and territorial conquest, however, merely distracts the Palestinians from the necessary task of getting their own house in order, an obstacle they are plainly unwilling to confront. Whatever Palestinian ambitions may be, nation-building appears beyond their means. Toameh earlier quotes a Palestinian Authority official who, briefing U.S. Special Middle East Envoy George Mitchell, confessed that: “Even if Binyamin Netanyahu were to offer us a Palestinian state tomorrow morning, I’m not sure that we are prepared to meet such a huge challenge.”
Failing a new and enlightened Mandate for the West Bank and Gaza, robustly enforced by the Western powers (forget the U.N.), it is highly unlikely that the Palestinians would be able to successfully manage their own independence. They are simply not ready and there is no forcing the process. Perhaps, as former American ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk proposed in Foreign Affairs for May 2003, the “road map” must be replaced by the political concept of trusteeship if a sovereign and self-sustaining Palestine is ever to see the light of history.
In any event, whatever spin is put on it for the benefit of public relations or the sunny rodomontade of press releases, the much-touted Annapolis conference was no exception to the general rule of blunder and desuetude, though not without causing even more damage, mostly to Israel. Israeli Prime Minister at the time, Ehud Olmert, the weakest and most unqualified in the history of the country and author of that revelatory phrase, “We are tired of winning,” did everything in his power to lose. Luckily his attempt to give away the store, as was the case with Ehud Barak at Camp David, was foiled by his putative beneficiaries who wanted the whole block.
Additionally, when one considers the fundamental Arab/Palestinian demands, like shrinking Israel’s borders so that they are rendered indefensible and inundating the country with millions of so-called “refugees,” the auguries for eventual reconciliation are nugatory. From the Israeli perspective, the process seems more like commiting national suicide than reaching a modus vivendi. There is no reason to expect a different result under any future Annapolis II, III or IV, which, like Hollywood movie sequels, merely grow progressively embarrassing as one clunker wearily follows another. P. David Hornik is on the mark when he suggests that the U.S. administration should adopt “the Israeli understanding of the Middle East as an arena of survival rather than conciliation.” Nor does it help that the Palestinians remain trapped in the oddly sustainable rubble of a failed ideology.
Which is Palestine? Gaza or the West Bank, two entities themselves ridden by internal dissension and threatening further mitosis? And when one reflects that Palestinian society has been educated from grassroots to tree tops to hate Israelis, embrace “martyrdom” for the cause and regard peace agreements and international accords—to adapt Clausewitz’s famous aphorism—as merely war by another name, it should become obvious that we are embarking on the wrong track.
PA leader Mahmoud Abbas himself has made this amply clear. Speaking at a memorial rally in Ramallah in October 2008, he pledged that “The Palestinian leadership will continue to follow Yasser Arafat's path until a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital is established…. The path of the shahids—Arafat, George Habash and Sheikh Ahmed Yassin—is the path that we cherish….” Having extolled the three arch-terrorists, his subsequent statements revealed that the Palestinian administration has no interest in flexible and reasoned negotiation: “We rejected Israeli proposals that stipulated making concessions including on Jerusalem and the refugees…. We either get all six points—Jerusalem, settlements, borders, refugees, water and security—or nothing at all.” All or nothing is as good a description as any of Palestinian negotiating technique and “nothing at all” the most likely result.
Further, on April 27, 2009, in an address to the Palestinian Youth Parliament, Abbas adamantly refused to recognize Israel’s identity as a Jewish state. Of course, he neglected to mention the diverse Muslim states which define themselves as precisely what they are, Muslim states (the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, etc.) Abbas suppressed the fact that Chapter 1, Article 2 of the Egyptian Constitution explicitly declares that “Islam is the State religion,” that both Egypt and Syria require the President to be a Muslim, and that the Palestinian Authority itself stipulates in Article 5 of its Constitution that Islam is the “official Palestinian religion.”
But what’s good for the gander is obviously not good for the goose. Even a hint of pragmatic reflection would suggest there can be no honorable treating with so contradictory and hypocritical a mindset. Interviewed in the London-based Al-Kuds-al-Arabi newspaper in August 2009, Fatah official Rafik Natsheh affirmed that Fatah would never recognize Israel. Why, then, go on with the charade? Nothing has changed since the last PA General Assembly meeting in Tunis twenty years ago.
The superficial counsels for the success of the Annapolis conference and similar peace intiatives which take the Palestinians at their word, ignore Israeli security interests, acknowledge rogue actors like Syria and even Hamas, cancel the reasons for Israel’s very founding, and misconstrue the animating impulse of Arab diplomacy are a surefire recipe for ever greater chaos and hostility in the region. Even with the change in the U.S. administration, the Annapolis principles are being held in what housewives call a “cold oven,” that is, quietly kept warm until the time comes to serve them up again or raise the temperature.
President Obama’s May 28 meeting with Abbas was only another of these rechauffés. Nabil Abu Rudeina, one of Abbas’ top aides, had proleptically labelled this encounter “a turning point for the Middle East peace process” (The Jordan Times, April 23, 2009). There have, of course, been so many such turning points that one is reminded of the frenzied and hilarious roundabout car chase scene in Peter Sellers’ The Pink Panther, leading to nothing more than vertigo and the inevitable collision. It is hard to deny the element of bathos and even of farce in these proceedings. Despite visionary hopes and occasional tenebrous indications of some sort of resolution, the “peace process” is going in circles.
Massad Yousef, the son of popular Hamas leader Sheikh Hassan Yousef, who fled Ramallah and is now living in exile in California, is someone who knows what he is talking about. In an interview with Haaretz.com (July 31, 2008), he asserts without the slightest hesitation that Israel “will never, but never have peace with Hamas. Islam, as the ideology that guides them, will not allow them to achieve a peace agreement with the Jews…More than that. An entire society sanctifies death and the suicide terrorists.” To believe otherwise, I’m afraid, is to yield to the Sirens who tempt us with our own febrile infatuations, to which Western (and much Israeli) political thought seems incurably predisposed.
An addled President Bush and his presbyopic Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice should have taken heed, had they only been able to. And by inviting terrorist states like Syria to participate in Annapolis and thereby lavishing credibility upon them, the Americans were only courting disaster. Nor has the situation improved under President Obama, who seems to be suffering from selective amnesia. In an interview with a klatch of Middle East reporters in the wake of his June 4, 2009 Cairo address, Obama apparently forgot about Ehud Barak’s overly magnanimous offer to Yasser Arafat at Camp David II in 2000 and subsequently at Taba in 2001 to establish a Palestinian state, preferring to put the onus of failure on the so-called “occupation,” by which he intends precisely those settlements vetted by the previous administration—and, ultimately, Israel itself.
Israel in particular must remain alert as the situation continues to devolve. When Obama knows what is best, prepare for the worst.
The Obama administration’s recent overtures to the PA, Syria and Iran are just more of the same old hummus with the difference that it has surrendered not only its intelligence but its dignity, acting on the one hand like a bully (toward Israel) and on the other as an apologist (toward the Arab world). Obama postures that he knows what is best for Israel, just as he knows what is best for America (and for Honduras). But the beneficiaries of his wisdom will suffer greatly as they swallow or are force-fed his nostrums and panaceas.