Friday, November 16, 2007

Lack of Sanity in Annapolis

A meeting is set to take place between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Annapolis, MD later this month. One has to wonder whether this meeting will be different than its predecessors or simply join the long list of failed peace conferences. Acknowledging the political realities on all sides it is hard to see how this meeting can be successful. The deck is stacked against optimism higher than ever before. Below I will outline some of the major issues that will prevent Annapolis from succeeding.

1.This is the first time in direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that the PLO’s legitimacy as the sole representative of the Palestinian people has been dubious. Party politics aside, the fact that the Palestinian people democratically elected a government that will not be present at the negotiating table deals an immediate and perhaps deadly blow to any possibility of a successful outcome.

The government of the Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS) is not innocent of wrongdoing nor should it be protected from criticism, however, the fact remains that this government was elected democratically and then sacked by every other player at the Annapolis conference (Israel, USA, Fateh-led PLO)

2.There also continues to be the question of personal integrity and legitimacy of the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). When the Israeli and Palestinian representatives were brought together at the rose garden to sign the Oslo Accords then PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat made a point of having Abu Mazen sign the document. Exactly why Arafat did that is unclear however one could assume that Arafat was concerned about how Oslo would be received by the Palestinian people and if they would hold their leaders accountable. Arafat was the charismatic face of the Palestinian struggle for years. Corrupt as he may have been his image was associated with Palestinian defiance in the face of dispossession and occupation. Today, the world of Palestinian politics is completely different. Palestinian people have grown increasingly skeptical of Israel’s intentions. Party lines have been drawn deep into a society which never dealt with this before. It is in this tense climate that Mahmoud Abbas will put his legitimacy into play. A troubling question remains: How much is his signature worth?

If we were to ignore the questions above about the exclusion of a democratically elected government and shaky ground Abbas stands on, we would find ourselves back at Camp David in the year 2000 – yet another failed peace initiative.

This indicates that the complexities that have developed after the death of Arafat and the Hamas election contributed to making Annapolis even less likely to succeed than Camp David. We could revisit the problems encountered in the negotiations in Camp David but since no one seems to agree what those really were it would be better if we could think through potential problems ourselves.

The Israelis and Palestinians have always wanted three things:

A. Sovereignty over the whole of Historic Palestine – For Palestinians this entails a just solution to the refugee issue based on the right of return. For Israelis this means sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza and ability to enforce the Law of Return for Jews to Israel.

B. Jerusalem- For both sides this has meant that the undivided city is the eternal capital of the state.

C. Self-Determination (as a Jewish or Palestinian state) - For Palestinians this has meant a state of their own where they can elect rulers from amongst themselves. For Israelis this has meant maintaining a state with a “Jewish Character” (while this term is unclear I understand it to mean a ethnic or religious Jewish majority)

Of course we can see how and Israeli and Palestinian realization of all of these things is impossible. Palestinian self-determination and sovereignty over the entirety of historic Palestine and Israeli realization of the same is mutually exclusive. Something’s got to give.

For years this has been the problem. The PLO had trumpeted the idea of a secular democratic Palestine through the late 1980s. (Anyone who tells you this is a ridiculous idea should be reminded that it was the platform of the PLO for the majority of its existence and only changed recently). Israel, after it initiated its settlement blitz into the West Bank in the late 1970s, made any idea of separation impractical since its control permeated all of historic Palestine.

In the early 1990s the PLO leadership was facing a harsh reality. It had been kicked out of Jordan, then Lebanon, and was only moving further away from Jerusalem when it attempted to lead a resistance movement from North Africa. The fall of the Soviet Union meant the loss of an important diplomatic supporter. The first Palestinian uprising drew international attention and at the same time provided the political space for new resistance leadership to grow. These activists, unlike the PLO, were on the ground in Gaza and the West Bank and were born into occupation. The first intifada that served as the mobilizing mechanism for the Islamic Resistance Movement. The Madrid conference and the Oslo Accords led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority which was Arafat’s ticket back into the party.

Oslo led to concessions; some more real than others. The PLO recognized Israel. Israel recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinians and territorial governance agreements were made for areas A, B, and C. (See Map-Right/Above)

The reality is however that the Israeli concessions amounted to little more than spoken word. Oslo allowed for the Palestinian Authority to be formed but through a matrix of control involving roadblocks, walls, checkpoint and settlement expansion and control of airspace and borders, Israel maintained full control over the West Bank and Gaza. (See Map-Right/Below)

So this brought us to where we are today only since Oslo we have seen the weakening of Palestinian parties through division and great Israeli control over the West Bank through the completion of the apartheid wall and settlement expansion. What chance does Annapolis have of succeeding under these circumstances? None.

The political reality makes it impossible to pursue a two-state solution. The failure of this upcoming conference will only serve to highlight the implausibility of negotiated solution based on the demands of both sides. A recent poll conducted by Khalil Shikaki ,among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, found that 41% disagreed with the proposed two-state solution. Also “only 46% would support and 48% would oppose a permanent settlement of the borders of the Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders”. Bear in mind that this polling is only representative of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The PLO, the entity negotiating with Israel at Annapolis, is the representative of the Palestinian PEOPLE. This means the PLO also represents the millions of Palestinian who became refugees as a result of depopulation carried about by soon to be Israeli forces from 1947-49.

While polling numbers about a two-state solution are not available one can logically assume that the refugees, particularly those living in squalid conditions, would be less favorable of a solution that neglects their right of return than those Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. Clearly, as the head of the PLO and representative of the Palestinian people, Mahmoud Abass can claim no legitimate mandate to pursue a two-state solution.

This becomes even more complicated when you consider that 20% of Israel’s population is Palestinian and is not being represented by the PLO. Birthrates indicate that this population will continue to increase and baring exceptional circumstances (like ethnic cleansing for example) this population will constitute a near majority in the next 50 years.

So what is to be done? It has become increasingly clear that the two-state idea must be abandoned. The time is not right for a one-state solution to be negotiated. However, it is imperative that we begin discussing it seriously. Three actions can bring us closer to this end:

An Israeli led civil rights movement in Israel- This would have to be based on equal opportunity for all, regardless of ethnicity or religion, and should challenge the ethno-centric nature of the state in all of its arenas.

A non-violent intifada inside Israel- The one million Palestinians inside Israel must rise up and demand equality and challenge the idea of a Jewish state.

Agreement on a common historical narrative in from 1947-49 – While this was once thought of as a dream it is becoming more of a reality every day. The effect of the New Historians is becoming evident and the Israeli public (Arab and Jewish) must continue to openly discuss this open and still bleeding wound in the state’s history.

It is time to change the debate in this conflict and create a new framework that would provide an opportunity for success. All land can belong to both sides, with a mutual capital; the sacrifice would come in the form of each sides need for ethnocentricity.

Benjamin Franklin cleverly noted “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results”. The conference at Annapolis is nothing short of insanity.

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