Castles in the air
Though Israel must be gleeful following the Annapolis debacle, theatrics won't change the nature or resolve of the ground struggle for Palestinian national liberation, writes Mustafa Al-Barghouti
With all due respect to all the speeches that were delivered in Annapolis, the only document that emerged from that meeting was the "Joint Understanding" between Israel and the Palestinian delegation. In this one-page, vague and loosely worded text another document was mentioned six times: the "roadmap".
This is the same roadmap that ran against the stumbling block for four years because it exacts upon the Palestinians an unfeasible task, which is to provide security and protection to their occupiers. Israel is the fourth largest arms exporter in the world. It has the most powerful military force in the region, a nuclear arsenal larger than that of France, and an air force stronger than the UK's. Such is the might of the occupying power that the governing authority of a people oppressed by that power's occupation is being told to protect, even though that authority does not possess the means to protect its own people. Surely this is a historical precedent.
Israel thus emerged as the greatest victor from Annapolis. It achieved everything it wanted with the least possible losses, while the Palestinian delegation backed down on every one of its pledges. There was no mention of freezing Israeli settlement expansion, of halting construction of the separation/apartheid wall, of the question of Jerusalem, the Palestinian refugees and borders. There was some vague reference to "core issues", without specifying what these are. There was no reference whatsoever, not even for the sake of nicety, to the cruel embargo against Gaza or, more importantly, to ending the occupation of the territories Israel seized in 1967.
Even the Palestinian negotiators' pledge to secure a timeframe for concluding negotiations on final status issues evaporated into thin air. What they got was the slippery wording, "The parties will exert an effort to reach an agreement before the end of 2008." As the Israelis made perfectly clear, to them "exerting efforts" is a far cry from committing themselves to a deadline.
There is a Palestinian proverb that goes, "The beginning of the dance is the hard part." Well we know how the beginning of the dance went. If Palestinian negotiators did all their backing down before the negotiations even began, it does not tax one's efforts to imagine how the rest turned out.
Before the meeting, Tzipi Livni vowed that security (as Israel defines it) had to come before negotiations, and the peace process began. She got what she wanted. In fact, it has since come to light in the US press that the whole plan for the Annapolis meeting had been worked out jointly by Condoleezza Rice and Tzipi Livni in advance, in accordance with Tel Aviv's specifications.
More ominous is the phrase in the "Joint Understanding" that comes at the end. It says, "Implementation of the future peace treaty will be subject to implementation of the roadmap." The "roadmap" is worded in such a way as to give Israel ample opening to claim that the Palestinians are not fulfilling their end of the bargain.
Again, everything went as Israel had planned. Whatever forthcoming negotiations produce will be put on the shelf until the Palestinian Authority (PA) is granted the Israeli certificate of good behaviour, testifying to its willingness and ability to play security agent for the occupation. Practically, that is an impossible role to perform, and if the PA tries to it will lose all influence and credibility as the representative of the Palestinian people.
However, the most strategically and historically dangerous development of all is the unprecedented Palestinian concession to a document that substitutes all references to the Arab Peace Initiative and UN resolutions as the framework for the peace process for the "roadmap", and what the two sides agree upon, which is to say what Israel approves.
The only achievement the Palestinian delegation (which is the same venerable team that went to Oslo) can claim is that the US will serve as judge over implementation of the agreement. Not that this is much of an achievement in view of Washington's blatant pro-Israel bias and in view of the stroke of the pen that excluded the Quartet (for all its faults), the UN and all other members of the international community, as possible arbiters.
In the flush of its successes, the Israeli delegation hastened to remind the international press that Israel has 14 reservations on the roadmap and that it still sticks by these reservations. The delegation also took advantage of the heavy Arab turnout at Annapolis to intimate that Israel virtually has normalisation of relations with the Arabs in the bag without having to resolve the Palestinian question and without having to withdraw from occupied Arab territories.
One thing was particularly clear from the heavy emphasis on the roadmap: the intent is to intensify internal Palestinian divisions and to aggravate confrontation between the factions with the result that they are all weakened and debilitated in the end. Israel, which rallied the official international community behind the siege and toppling of the Palestinian national unity government, needs those divisions to be able to claim that it is impossible to reach solutions with a Palestinian authority incapable of controlling its own people.
Before Annapolis, the conflict revolved around three essential issues: the narrative, the vision and who holds the initiative. In Annapolis, the Israeli position, supported by the US, gained on all three fronts.
Regarding the narrative, the Palestinian cause has been transformed from the struggle of a people against foreign occupation, oppression and racism, and for liberty and self-determination, to a conflict between "moderates" and "extremists" in the Middle East and in Palestine itself. The focus will now be trained on doing whatever it takes to bury the Palestinian cause as a constant source of instability and tension in the region.
The vision for the future follows naturally. It has taken the form of an insidious attempt to void the concept of a Palestinian state of all substance, and to bring into being, instead, a governing entity devoid of sovereign rights and without the power to safeguard its own security within the framework of an apartheid system of surrounded and disparate cantons. In addition, on the pretext that it is impossible to resolve the core issues of the status of Jerusalem and the refugees, there will be an attempt to push the notion of a state with "interim borders" set by the illegal and racist separation wall, without Jerusalem as its capital, without territorial integrity, and without the areas where constantly expanding Israeli settlements exist.
With regard to the third issue, it is obvious that the Annapolis meeting was a reaction to mounting Arab pressure, against the backdrop of the American quagmire in Iraq, to resolve the Palestinian cause. It was simultaneously a response to the Arab Peace Initiative that had begun to draw increasing support for a new international peace conference (Madrid II) that would resituate the quest for a solution to the Palestinian cause and the Arab-Israeli conflict in general with the framework of international legitimacy and UN resolutions.
In Annapolis, the initiative passed from the hands of the Arabs and other international parties to the US, which coordinated very closely with Israel over every detail. As a result, instead of international law and resolutions, whatever the two sides agree upon has become the basis for a solution, and instead of the comprehensiveness that characterised the Madrid approach, the post-Annapolis approach is to be characterised by miniscule interim steps and a very selective treatment of the issues.
Israel succeeded putting a stop to even the efforts of the US to kick-start negotiations in Washington in order to give the impression of a third party's sponsorship. Olmert insisted that negotiations had to take place solely between the two parties, in Israel or the occupied territories and nowhere else. His purpose was to offset the possibility of outside interference, even by the staunchly pro-Israel United States. He got his way.
After all that, we have little cause to wonder at the smug jubilation of the Israeli delegation, or at the bitterness that must have overcome some Arab delegates whose speeches and pictures were not even transmitted by most of the media, or at the depression that might have gripped some members of the international community, if they still have the ability to feel anything, after having been so rudely and offhandedly excluded and snubbed.
Our sole hope is that it will not be long until Palestinian officials of all stripes will wake up to the fact that the Israeli vision accomplished its headway through the breach in Palestinian ranks and the Palestinians' lack of a strategic vision and unified national leadership.
Israel has gained the time it wanted and that it hopes to turn to its best advantage. However, it has not won the contest. The outcome of that will be determined by events on the ground. It will be determined by the unfolding progress of the peaceful Palestinian grassroots struggle, backed by the mounting international movement of solidarity with their cause, which are exposing the true nature of the Israeli regime and of those who cooperate with it.
This is something that has Olmert worried, because the name of Israel has begun to become synonymous with apartheid. It is a worry he will not be able to allay by gaining control over the so-called peace process and turning into something that has no bearing on the actual struggle on the ground, which cannot be halted by administrative decrees.
The writer is secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative.