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Annapolis: Palestinian great expectations


Like their Israeli counterparts Eran Lerman, Oded Eran and Yossi Alpher, Palestinians do not see a great chance of success for the Annapolis talks (or meeting or summit). Unlike the Israelis, Palestinians Ghassan Khatib and Daoud Kuttab seem to focus exclusively on what Israel ought to do, rather than on what both sides or the United States might do, or on analysis of objective factors that stand in the way of success.

Khatib is quite right to point out that like previous negotiations, the current ones are plagued by secrecy. Whatever the sides are saying to each other in private, in public they are only making fairly belligerent statements, resulting in a hardening of positions on the part of the Israeli and Palestinian publics, instead of preparing both peoples for peace. Ehud Olmert made quite clear what he would not do for peace, but he hasn't made clear what he would do. Palestinian demands continue to escalate. A capital in Jerusalem is no longer sufficient. Mahmoud Abbas and his advisers demand sovereignty over the wailing wall. The borders of 1967 are not enough either, as Mahmoud Abbas is quoted as demanding sovereignty over noman's land. For a regime that cannot even implement sovereignty over its own police force, these "urgent" demands and ambitions seem to be wildly out of synch with reality.

The Palestinian analysts seem to be presenting an "official view" and a negotiating position, rather than analyses. They are making demands in place of the negotiators. Some of their demands are reasonable, but they, and we, should be trying to understand why those demands cannot be met or aren't being met. This is more problematic than one might think. As Akiva Eldar has noted, there is a kind of strange disconnect between what the government of Ehud Olmert seems to want and says that it wants on the one hand, and the actual actions of the Olmert government. There seems to be a genuine desire to make needed concessions, but it is not translated into actions. Khatib's point that Israel could at least offer to stop settlement expansion is well taken, but Israeli peacewatchers are as puzzled as Palestinians about why this activity, which seems to have a functional autonomy of its own, continues.

On the Palestinian side, we can see the same problem. Some of the money that was paid by Israel to the Palestinian Authority that should have been used for salaries of people loyal to Mahmoud Abbas was paid "by mistake" to Hamas employees.

Palestinian "security personnel" who were plotting to assassinate PM Olmert in Jericho were arrested and released and then arrested again after Israeli protests. While it is true that the Israeli side makes no move to stop settlement expansion, or even to remove illegal outposts, it is equally true that the Palestinian Authority makes no meaningful moves to bring an end to the activities of Islamic Jihad and Hamas, unless those activities threaten the Palestinian Authority directly. As long as the terrorist are only plotting to blow up Israelis, the Palestinian Authority doesn't seem to be concerned. Both leaderships are behaving like respectable gentlemen who try to say the right things, but who are afflicted by Turette's syndrome, which makes them involuntarily mouth streams of obscenities in the midst of staid lectures and melodramatic professions of undying love. There is no rational for many of the actions of either side, which seem to reflect exigencies of internal politics.

Khatib and Daoud Kuttab, like the Palestinian negotiators, have impossible minimal demands, such as a timetable for Israeli implementation and a Palestinian state. The big problem is that neither they nor anyone else can supply a timetable for Palestinian implementation.

How can there be a timetable for a Palestinian state when there is no timetable for eliminating Hamas control of Gaza and restoring a semblance of normality there? How can there be a timetable for Palestinian sovereignty when there is no timetable for when, if ever, Palestinian security forces could be relied on to control terror instead of participating in it? If the Palestinians cannot even stop pickpockets and auto thieves in Nablus, how do they expect to run a state?

A real state doesn't come about just because someone announces a state. A Palestinian "state" declared in present circumstances would be worse than Iraq or Lebanon. For Palestinians, it would mean that the nightmare of Gaza will spread to the West Bank. For Israel, this state would be Iran on the Jordan river. It is the Palestinians who must supply a timetable for assuming the capabilities and responsibilities of statehood.

But on the other hand, how can Israel expect the Abbas government to gain any legitimacy as long as the Israeli government continues to support settlement expansion, and makes no real move to ease the economic hardships of the Palestinians?

Khatib's suggestion that the summit should be scaled down to mark the resumption of bilateral negotiations is beside the point. Bilateral negotiations are already underway, even if they are not making any headway. For bilateral negotiations, it is not necessary to have the presence of the United States and ARab countries. Then they are not bilateral any more, are they?

Most bizarre and discouraging is Khatib's idea that only Arab states that have already made peace with Israel should attend the conference. If we are ever going to achieve peace, there must be a realignment ofMiddle East forces, so that the all those who favor a peaceful solution and compromise are on the same side, and try to recruit the maximum support for that side. This would also appear to be imperative for the survival of Mahmoud Abbas's beleaguered government. In fact, some commentators have pointed out that in that sense, the omens for the conference shoould be favorable, since both sides want and need success. In the Middle East, what makes sense is not usually what happens. Every Arab country that attends the conference will in fact be tendering a vote of confidence in the government of Mahmoud Abbas. So why then, is Khatib asking Arab governments to stay away? Who benefits if Arab governments stay away? Only the refusal front and the Israeli right would benefit.

Ami Isseroff

Lower expectations

by Ghassan Khatib

On one level, the American initiative to convene a peace meeting at Annapolis marks a positive transformation in the American approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But on another, it reflects a continuation of the past.

Until recently, the Bush administration had acquiesced to the unilateral Israeli strategy adopted by former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Sharon convinced the American administration that canceling any political efforts and allowing the Israeli military instead the opportunity to pursue unhindered its endeavor to suppress the Palestinians would take care of the problem. The renewed American diplomatic efforts, led by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, thus marks a positive return to a bilateral track that recognizes the Palestinian side as a political partner.

On the other hand, this renewed diplomatic activity also embodies a return to many of the approaches to mediating between the two sides that failed in the past. For one thing, where the US should be representing the international community, once again Washington is instead monopolizing mediation efforts and marginalizing the role of other members of the Quartet, especially Europe and the UN.

Another problem with the current US efforts is that they are exhibiting several of the negative features that characterized the Oslo negotiations and severely weakened chances of their successful implementation. Current negotiations are characterized by secrecy, at least on the Palestinian side, thus precluding the input of the public and official decision-making bodies; they have taken place without agreed-upon and declared terms of reference, again leaving the Palestinian side at the mercy of the imbalance of power between the two sides; and, finally, the makeup of the Palestinian delegation, which was apparently influenced by the US, is more or less the same as that for the Oslo talks.

Meanwhile, in the last meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state disappointed the Palestinian side in three ways. First, Rice appeared to place greater importance on internal Israeli dynamics in her expectations of the language and content of any document to come out of the Annapolis meeting. Second, she brought nothing by way of progress in ending Israel's negative practices in the occupied territories, including a possible relaxation of the Israeli closure regime, an end to settlement expansion or any significant prisoner release. Finally, she also brought no commitment from Israel to a timetable for negotiations.

Thus, Rice left the Palestinian leadership and peace camp in a disadvantaged position vis-a-vis the camp led by Hamas even before the Annapolis meeting has started. This is unfortunate, especially since it is less than two years since Hamas overwhelmingly won Palestinian elections, particularly as a result of the collapse of the peace process and the failure of the peace camp in Palestine to deliver on its promises to the public of a negotiated peaceful end to the conflict.

If the Annapolis meeting is not itself going to mark progress toward a political settlement that includes an end to the occupation, then it should at least mark the resumption of bilateral negotiations. In this case, there has to be a clear and intensive effort to reduce public expectations both in Israel and Palestine and avoid the exaggerated importance currently attached to this meeting.

Furthermore, the Arab world is advised to restrict its representation at Annapolis to those countries that already have relations with Israel, i.e., Egypt and Jordan. Attendance by countries such as Saudi Arabia and Syria would mark a diplomatic victory for Israel. Such a victory cannot come for free. If there is to be no end to settlement expansion, no easing of restrictions on movement in occupied territory and no clear commitment to negotiate an end to the conflict at Annapolis, there is no need to grant Israel any diplomatic victory in this way.- Published 22/10/2007 © bitterlemons.org

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is vice-president of Birzeit University and a former Palestinian Authority minister of planning. This article was originally published by bitterlemons.org on 22/10/2007 and is copyright by bitterlemons.org and reproduced by permission.

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