Mahmoud Abbas, in the best Arafat impression he could muster, actually balked at signing the innocuous document (see below) at the last minute. Apparently, Condi had to take him aside, whisper sweet nothings in his ear or twist his arm with threats to have him sign it. This enabled Bush to mangle Olmert and Abbas’s names and read this bit of nothingness to the world.
To what do the parties agree? Well, to honor past agreements such as the Road Map. This was a document which the Israeli government signed after declaring that it opposed 14 clauses. No mention of any such rejection now. This statement also states that the two parties will negotiate for peace and hold all kinds of meetings to facilitate negotiations. The negotiations will be overseen by the Americans who will also play referee regarding who is upholding their side of the agreement. And in a big victory for the Palestinians, this statement equates Israeli “incitement and terrorism” with Palestinian incitement and terrorism (I kid you not).
A great deal of noise was made about the attendance at the summit of many Arab and Muslim nations that have no relations with Israel. This backfired on Israel. The Saudis, who supposedly worded their 2002 declaration for a comprehensive peace in the ME with ambiguous language opening a door to settling the Palestinian refugeee issue, stated explicitly at this summit that they expect a full return of refugees into Israel. Other nations refused to meet or discuss anything with their Israeli counterparts, alienating Israel as always. There appears to be no evidence of any form of serious support by these nations for a peace program and their attendance signifies nothing more than mindful, grudging acceptance of strong American pressure to attend.
And the Palestinians? Here is what Abbas said in his speech following Bush’s:
“…peace…will lead to ending the occupation in all the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem, as well as the Golan Heights and parts of Lebanon and as it will also lead to resolving all the other permanent status issues. Chief among these is the plight of Palestinian refugees which must be addressed holistically-that is, in its political, human, and individual dimensions in accordance with UNGA resolution 194, as emphasized in the Arab Peace Initiative, and with the participation of sister Arab countries who have borne the heavy burden of hosting the refugees for decades.”
Wow. No change since 2000. The ongoing demand to have UNGAR 194 recognized as a legal basis of any agreement, without any compromise on the so-called “right of return,” and a demand to return to 1949 lines is left unchanged. The gratitude shown to Arab states who have treated the Palestinians as pawns for decades is touching.
What else does Abbas tell us? He tells his people that they will experience:
a new dawn free of occupation, settlements, apartheid walls, prisons full of prisoners, targeted assassinations, and the siege of checkpoints around villages and cities…the day when our prisoners are free and to the day when they can assume their roles in supporting peace and building their homeland and state.
Many of these prisoners, of course, have Israeli blood on their hands.
He lies outright:
…we will continue to carry out our responsibilities in accordance with the Roadmap in fighting lawlessness, violence and terrorism and in restoring law and order. The government of the PA is working tirelessly in extremely difficult conditions to achieve this noble cause.
The Road Map requires that the Palestinians end terror activities but there is little evidence that the PA under Abbas has ever given serious weight to this requirement. As if to remind us of the two handed game he’s playing, Abbas adds a little defense of terrorism in his speech:
Our people clearly understand the difference between the threat posed by terrorism versus using terrorism as a pretext to maintain an intolerable situation…I must also stress that our determination to end occupation stems from our vision that by doing so we destroy one of the most important excuses for terrorism in our region and in the world.
In case you missed the point that NOTHING has changed from the Palestinians’ perspective, Abbas then clinches it by saying, “Let us make the peace of the brave…”
That phrase was the code used by all the participants of the failed Camp David and Taba negotiations as they forged forward toward nothingness. Of course, Arafat was not brave enough to sign a peace deal…or then again maybe he was brave enough to pass on peace and launch a war.
Olmert also spoke, but I have nothing of substance to quote from his speech. He essentially promises compromise and tells the Palestinians that he feels their pain.
What was gained by all of this Annapolis get-together?
Not much. The two sides have agreed to launch negotiations for peace with a meaningless timetable. The Israelis have conceded already that they are willing to make “painful” compromises while the Palestinians have indicated that even an innocuous statement makes them balk – for them compromise means less than they accepted in Taba.
The Israelis, once again under Olmert, are outsourcing part of their security and will live to regret this day. The last time Olmert did this was at the conclusion of the ’06 Lebanon War when Olmert allowed UN forces to sit on the Lebanese side of the Israel border in order to ensure that UNSCR 1701 was observed. A little more than a year later, the UN, Hizbullah and Israel were all in agreement that Hizbullah had completely re-armed and then some.
This time, Olmert has given the US the right to play referee and to determine whether the two sides are upholding their commitments under the “Road Map.” This means that Israel can no longer make that decision for itself and will rely upon whatever might be diplomatically or politically desirable to the US. If it’s in the US interest to promote the Abbas government, they will turn a blind eye to infringements by the PA or Palestinian groups, just as they have in recent months when they sent his government millions of dollars in support despite continued attack attempts emanating from the West Bank.
On the other hand, the Israelis have now given the US a significant tool with which to rap their fingers on the issue of settlements since the Road Map requires they take steps to eliminate certain settlements and end all “natural growth.” This will ratchet up the pressure on Israel considerably and, in my opinion, without quid pro quo from the Palestinians. The settlement issue needs to be addressed, but the social upheaval that will result in any significant actions by Israel will go unrewarded because the Palestinians will receive the benefit of the doubt when they don’t reciprocate.
If I seem cynical about American participation, it is only because I believe the Bush Administration is desperate for a positive outcome from these talks. I agree with what many pundits have written about the pressure Bush Administration leaders are feeling about leaving behind a legacy other than Iraq.
In an interview, Olmert said that Israel has to come to a two state solution with the Palestinians soon or it will be destroyed. He correctly notes that the heart of a democratic Israel is at stake. Many others, including The Middle at Jewlicious, have made this claim for years so there’s nothing earth-shattering here. However, it is an ill-considered and ill-advised statement to make on the eve of difficult negotiations with a “partner” whose starting point is more severe than where they stood seven years ago. Olmert is waving a white flag of surrender at a time when Israel happens to be in a position of strength.
This is not only odd behavior by a PM who along with the President of Israel, Peres, jumped hastily to begin talks with the Palestinians after Hamas’ takeover of Gaza, but it is sheer foolishness. Olmert and Peres were thrilled to push for peace talks once Gaza was lost to the PA and Fatah. Presumably, they believed the Palestinians would be weakened in negotiations and this might even open a door to eliminating Gaza from a future Palestinian state (de facto, if not on paper).
However, the tables have been turned on the Israelis now. The Palestinians, who have nothing to lose since they have no state and are living under either Israeli or Hamas rule, stand firm in their historic demands and have secured the Americans as allies in these upcoming negotiations. The Americans have much to gain from a peace deal and appear to have convinced ourselves that there is much to lose in failure to close a deal. The Israelis, however, now find themselves compromising in order to appease their biggest ally who has an interest in closing these negotiations. The first example of this is the acceptance of the equivalence of “incitement and terrorism” between Palestinians and Israelis when no such equivalence exists. The second example is the acceptance of American oversight of the implementation of the “Road Map” even as their interest is to plow ahead and not stop for roadblocks.
There may yet come a point when the Americans will be in a position to press Israel on fundamental issues such as Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, and it will become too difficult for the Israeli government to say “no.” This is the trap Olmert has set for himself, Israel and the US.
Joint Understanding on Negotiations
Annapolis, 27 November 2007
The representatives of the Government of the State of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), represented respectively by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas, in his capacity as Chairman of the PLO Executive Committee and President of the Palestinian Authority, have convened in Annapolis, Maryland, under the auspices of President George W. Bush of the United States of America, and with the support of the participants of this international conference, having concluded the following Joint Understanding:
We express our determination to bring an end to bloodshed, suffering and decades of conflict between our peoples, to usher in a new era of peace, based on freedom, security, justice, dignity, respect and mutual recognition, to propagate a culture of peace and non-violence, and to confront terrorism and incitement, whether committed by Palestinians or Israelis.
In furtherance of the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security:
We agree to immediately launch good faith bilateral negotiations in order to conclude a peace treaty resolving all outstanding issues, including all core issues, without exception, as specified in previous agreements.
We agree to engage in vigorous, ongoing and continuous negotiations, and shall make every effort to conclude an agreement before the end of 2008.
For this purpose, a steering committee, led jointly by the head of the delegation of each party, will meet continuously, as agreed.
The steering committee will develop a joint work plan and establish and oversee the work of negotiations teams to address all issues, to be headed by one lead representative from each party.
The first session of the steering committee will be held on 12 December 2007.
President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert will continue to meet on a bi-weekly basis to follow up the negotiations in order to offer all necessary assistance for their advancement.
The parties also commit to immediately implement their respective obligations under the Performance-Based Road Map to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israel-Palestinian Conflict, issued by the Quartet on 30 April 2003 (hereinafter, “the Roadmap”) and agree to form an American, Palestinian and Israeli mechanism, led by the United States, to follow up on the implementation of the Roadmap. The parties further commit to continue the implementation of the ongoing obligations of the Roadmap until they reach a peace treaty. The United States will monitor and judge the fulfillment of the commitments of both sides of the Roadmap.
Unless otherwise agreed by the parties, implementation of the future peace treaty will be subject to the implementation of the Roadmap, as judged by the United States.
In conclusion, we express our profound appreciation to the President of the United States and his Administration, and to the participants of this international conference, for their support for our bilateral peace process.