Yet More pre-Annapolis Analysis

Nov 27, 2007 | AIJAC staff

Update from AIJAC

November 27, 2007
Number 11/07 #10

This Update features additional discussion of the significance and prospects of the Annapolis conference, due to begin tonight, Australian time. In a triumph for American diplomacy, it looks like the conference will feature significant participation from Arab states, including both Saudi Arabia and Syria.

First up is top Israeli political scientist Shlomo Avineri, who makes the case that there is no reason to exaggerate the importance of Annapolis, either in terms of the opportunity it creates or the dangers it may spark, but that it is nonetheless a useful exercise. He points out that the meeting is simply a modest way to “to institutionalize the change that has taken place in the atmosphere between Israel and the Palestinians and to try to find a way out – as modest as it may be – of the freeze that resulted from the failure of the 2000 Camp David summit and the second intifada.” He says just by having the meeting and agreeing on a program of future negotiation, the meeting will be a positive achievement. For his full analysis, CLICK HERE. US national security advisor Stephen Hadley also stressed in his press briefing, as Avineri does, that the conference itself is not a forum for negotiations, but a part of the process of arranging a peace process.

Next up, Jerusalem Post editor David Horovitz, who is accompanying Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to Annapolis, stresses the significance of the improved Arab representation at the conference, giving that aims of the meeting have been scaled back from initial ambitions that it could lead to a joint declaration on the broad outline of a final status agreement. He also stresses Israel’s interest in trying to make as much progress as possible on the Bush Administration’s watch. For his discussion, CLICK HERE. Also stressing the current opportunity created under Bush is Israeli columnist Yoel Marcus, while the Washington Post story about the evolution of Rice’s Middle East strategy up to Annapolis mentioned by Horovitz is here.

Finally, in the lead-up to Annapolis, Professor Bernard Lewis, doyen of Middle East scholars, penned a piece stressing that the success or failure of any Middle East peace process, including Annapolis, depends on a change in Arab attitudes toward Israel.  He points out that, despite occasional formal recognition, Arab leaders generally refuse to recognise any legitimacy for Israel in Arabic to their own people – the most they will talk of is a truce or armistice. He also recaps the history of the Palestinian and Jewish refugees from the 1948 war to illustrate his point. For this important contribution from one of the world’s greatest authorities on the Middle East, CLICK HERE. Making some similar points recently about the still unresolved problem of recognition was Canadian columnist David Warren.

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To Annapolis – without illusions

By Shlomo Avineri

Haaretz,  November 27, 2007

There is something delusory about the range of reactions being heard in Israel ahead of the Annapolis conference. The extreme right refers to it as to an approaching Holocaust and warns of dangerous concessions. The extreme left sees it as the last chance for Israeli-Palestinian conciliation and threatens that if it does not produce the hoped-for peace, the situation will deteriorate into chaos.

Both of these apocalyptic forecasts are groundless. Annapolis is nothing more than an attempt to institutionalize the change that has taken place in the atmosphere between Israel and the Palestinians and to try to find a way out – as modest as it may be – of the freeze that resulted from the failure of the 2000 Camp David summit and the second intifada. In addition, Annapolis is an attempt to rescue something of the prestige of President George W. Bush, whose road map has not led anywhere to date.

Anyone who expects Annapolis to lead to an agreement is ignoring the situation on the ground. The gaps between the relatively moderate Israeli stance, which is represented by the Olmert-Barak government, and the relatively moderate stance represented by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, are still too profound. Even a consensual declaration of principles is apparently unattainable: In any declaration of principles, the Palestinians will demand that Israel agree, more or less, to a return to the 1967 borders and to turning Jerusalem into the capital of the two states. It is hard to imagine that the Israeli government would be willing and able to do so at present. Although we can reasonably assume that a future settlement, if it is in fact achieved, will follow those guidelines, an outright declaration to that effect by Israel is not politically feasible at the moment.

The same is true regarding Israel’s demand that the Palestinians give up the right of return and recognize Israel as the Jewish national state. It is hard to see the Palestinians capable of doing this at present. This said, it is clear that such a concession and such recognition will be a crucial element of a future agreement. Israel has already twice, at Camp David in 1978 and in Oslo in 1993, recognized the legitimate rights of the Arab-Palestinian nation, and it was the mistake of both Menachem Begin and Yossi Beilin not to demand the same recognition from the Palestinian side. It is clear that in the final analysis, such Palestinian recognition will be required, as the basis of the principle of dividing the country and of “two states for two nations.”

Above all else hovers Hamas’ control of Gaza: The infighting between members of Fatah and Hamas is not exactly the ideal backdrop for a historic conciliation between Israel and the Palestinians. It is clear that first the Palestinians have to reach an internal national understanding among themselves – one not determined by violence.

What can nevertheless be expected of Annapolis? First, something has already been achieved. After almost six years in which Israeli and Palestinian leaders have not spoken to each other, in recent weeks they have been meeting regularly. Perhaps they have not yet reached agreements, but the fact they are talking is in itself an achievement that should not be made light of.

That is what will happen in Annapolis as well: An international event in which Israeli and Palestinian leaders meet is no small achievement after the humiliating failure of Camp David 2000. We can assume that Annapolis will not be merely a photo-op, but that an agreement will be reached about issues that have to be discussed. We can reasonably assume that work groups will be established, as happened after the Madrid Conference, and that they will be required to report on their progress to another meeting of the conference plenum. We can also expect concrete steps by Israel such as the dismantling of illegal outposts and the removal of checkpoints, and a fight against the terrorist gangs by the Palestinians.

It is in fact a modest endeavor, and certainly not the End of Days. But after the collapse of the Oslo Accords and what seemed to be a rift that could not be mended, this is a certain and significant achievement. Only in this way, step by step, will peace ever be established in our region.


Background: From farce to real drama?


Jerusalem Post, Nov 26, 2007 0:52 | Updated Nov 26, 2007 11:37

The location has already made history: Annapolis, Maryland, which this week plays host to the latest effort at Middle East peacemaking, is where the Treaty of Paris was ratified by Congress 224 years ago, formally ending the Revolutionary War, and where George Washington resigned his commission as commander-in-chief of the American Revolutionary Army.

The date is historic, too: It happens to be 60 years to the week since the United Nations’ General Assembly ratified the partition of Palestine into intended Jewish and Arab entities. Now, Israeli and Palestinian leaders are here to try to achieve the updated will of much of the international community – or, in the official language of the State Department, “to realize President Bush’s vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security.”

But if history is to be made this week, it certainly began with farce. Shortly before takeoff from Ben-Gurion Airport on Saturday night, when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert came to brief the journalists flying out with him, he had no sooner opened his mouth than the El Al cabin service director, a Mr. Markovitz, unwittingly drowned him out over the loudspeaker system with a lengthy, high-volume welcome aboard. Olmert battled briefly on, but when Mr. Markovitz then cheerfully announced that we would now be shown a short film on aircraft safety, and that was combined with a reporter’s question on a subject Olmert really didn’t want to talk about – the teachers’ strike – the prime minister cut short the conversation and headed back to the front of the plane.

Still, between the interruptions, he had managed to convey his key hope for the Annapolis talks, that they would enable “the launch of serious negotiations, on all the core issues, which will lead to a solution of two national homes for two peoples.” Annapolis was conceived in a spirit of absurdly exaggerated ambition, initially envisaged as some kind of culmination to an accelerated process of Israeli-Palestinian contacts in recent weeks that, it was anticipated, would have achieved substantive progress on the key core issues such as the status of Jerusalem, borders, settlements and refugees.

But so adroitly have the Americans and their guests backtracked from those unrealistic goals, so dramatically have they managed to lower expectations, that the very fact that Israel and the Palestinians are to be joined at this conference by plentiful Arab representation, including the Saudi foreign minister and, the final prize, a Syrian government representative, is starting to give the gathering some credibility.

During her own, rather longer, in-flight briefing to the press, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told The Jerusalem Post that “one of the lessons learned” from the failure of the Camp David “final-status” talks seven years ago was that “there is not a Palestinian leader in the world” who could make a deal with Israel unless the Arab world was standing firmly by his side.

And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has evidently “delivered” that potential supporting cast. The “picture of the week,” Livni predicted, would be that of those Arab players who have chosen by their presence here to signal their support for a new effort at peacemaking, contrasted with the rejectionists of Iran, Hizbullah and the terrorist organizations.

Still consistently downplaying Annapolis, Livni insisted that the sessions this week would be “declarative” rather than substantive – with no discussions held, much less decisions taken. Real talks would begin in earnest only after Annapolis, she said, speaking of frequent serious meetings rather than marathon, non-stop negotiations.

But the various “declarative” positions set out here will be immensely significant, nonetheless. The Egyptian ambassador to the United States, Nabil Fahmy, told the Post on Sunday that his expectation was that Annapolis would produce an agreed timetable for a final-status accord. The widespread participation was positive, he said, “but what we are looking at is, ‘When are we going to finish this?'” He said everybody knew the parameters of an accord, and the question was whether there was sufficient political will to reach and implement it. “The objective clearly is to finish next year,” he said, “and I firmly think that if there are serious negotiations it shouldn’t even take that long.” The most critical “declarative” position to be set out here, therefore, will presumably be that of President George Bush, whose dwindling time in office essentially sets the time frame for this new effort.

Saturday’s Washington Post tried to gauge how Bush would steer things, noting that the new active role he was set to play here this week “is notable for a president who has never visited Israel while in office, who has made only one trip to Egypt and Jordan to promote peace efforts, and who has left the task of relaunching the peace process largely in the hands of his secretary of state.”

The paper quoted Rice declaring this week that she aims to finalize a peace deal before the end of the Bush presidency, and stressing that she wouldn’t be engaged on this new diplomacy if Bush was not “deeply committed to it.” But it also assessed that Bush would not attempt to impose a settlement on the sides and asserted that he was personally skeptical about the Palestinians’ readiness to make the “the compromises necessary for a peace deal.”

Either way, much will plainly depend on what Olmert, Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have been and will be telling their administration counterparts.

The Washington Post’s analysis concluded with a senior administration official stating that this Israeli government trusts this president, “and they don’t know who will follow… [So] if they’re going to do something that involves some risk – and I think they view it as risk – they’ve got to do it with this man in the White House.”

El Al’s Mr. Markovitz may have curtailed him on Saturday night. But neither Olmert nor Livni have said anything in the run-up to Annapolis that would contradict that assessment


On the Jewish Question


Wall Street Journal, November 26, 2007

Herewith some thoughts about tomorrow’s Annapolis peace conference, and the larger problem of how to approach the Israel-Palestine conflict. The first question (one might think it is obvious but apparently not) is, “What is the conflict about?” There are basically two possibilities: that it is about the size of Israel, or about its existence.

If the issue is about the size of Israel, then we have a straightforward border problem, like Alsace-Lorraine or Texas. That is to say, not easy, but possible to solve in the long run, and to live with in the meantime.

If, on the other hand, the issue is the existence of Israel, then clearly it is insoluble by negotiation. There is no compromise position between existing and not existing, and no conceivable government of Israel is going to negotiate on whether that country should or should not exist.

PLO and other Palestinian spokesmen have, from time to time, given formal indications of recognition of Israel in their diplomatic discourse in foreign languages. But that’s not the message delivered at home in Arabic, in everything from primary school textbooks to political speeches and religious sermons. Here the terms used in Arabic denote, not the end of hostilities, but an armistice or truce, until such time that the war against Israel can be resumed with better prospects for success. Without genuine acceptance of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State, as the more than 20 members of the Arab League exist as Arab States, or the much larger number of members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference exist as Islamic states, peace cannot be negotiated.

A good example of how this problem affects negotiation is the much-discussed refugee question. During the fighting in 1947-1948, about three-fourths of a million Arabs fled or were driven (both are true in different places) from Israel and found refuge in the neighboring Arab countries. In the same period and after, a slightly greater number of Jews fled or were driven from Arab countries, first from the Arab-controlled part of mandatory Palestine (where not a single Jew was permitted to remain), then from the Arab countries where they and their ancestors had lived for centuries, or in some places for millennia. Most Jewish refugees found their way to Israel.

What happened was thus, in effect, an exchange of populations not unlike that which took place in the Indian subcontinent in the previous year, when British India was split into India and Pakistan. Millions of refugees fled or were driven both ways — Hindus and others from Pakistan to India, Muslims from India to Pakistan. Another example was Eastern Europe at the end of World War II, when the Soviets annexed a large piece of eastern Poland and compensated the Poles with a slice of eastern Germany. This too led to a massive refugee movement — Poles fled or were driven from the Soviet Union into Poland, Germans fled or were driven from Poland into Germany.

The Poles and the Germans, the Hindus and the Muslims, the Jewish refugees from Arab lands, all were resettled in their new homes and accorded the normal rights of citizenship. More remarkably, this was done without international aid. The one exception was the Palestinian Arabs in neighboring Arab countries.

The government of Jordan granted Palestinian Arabs a form of citizenship, but kept them in refugee camps. In the other Arab countries, they were and remained stateless aliens without rights or opportunities, maintained by U.N. funding. Paradoxically, if a Palestinian fled to Britain or America, he was eligible for naturalization after five years, and his locally-born children were citizens by birth. If he went to Syria, Lebanon or Iraq, he and his descendants remained stateless, now entering the fourth or fifth generation.

The reason for this has been stated by various Arab spokesmen. It is the need to preserve the Palestinians as a separate entity until the time when they will return and reclaim the whole of Palestine; that is to say, all of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Israel. The demand for the “return” of the refugees, in other words, means the destruction of Israel. This is highly unlikely to be approved by any Israeli government.

There are signs of change in some Arab circles, of a willingness to accept Israel and even to see the possibility of a positive Israeli contribution to the public life of the region. But such opinions are only furtively expressed. Sometimes, those who dare to express them are jailed or worse. These opinions have as yet little or no impact on the leadership.

Which brings us back to the Annapolis summit. If the issue is not the size of Israel, but its existence, negotiations are foredoomed. And in light of the past record, it is clear that is and will remain the issue, until the Arab leadership either achieves or renounces its purpose — to destroy Israel. Both seem equally unlikely for the time being.

Mr. Lewis, professor emeritus at Princeton, is the author, most recently, of “From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East” (Oxford University Press, 2004).


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