WHAT IS AFTER ANNAPOLIS?
by Ahmad Al-Akhras, Ph.D.
On the 60th anniversary of the UN partition plan, President Bush invited the conflicting parties of the Middle East to Annapolis, Maryland. It seems that President Bush wanted to have a legacy for being a broker of a long-awaited peace deal between the Palestinians and Israelis. It looks like nothing is coming out of this meeting. However, it may turn out as a nice photo op for everybody involved.
Ehud Olmert, Israeli prime minister, made it very clear that no discussion will take place on the four major areas: Jerusalem, Refugees, borders and settlements. These areas of major conflict can wait until later. This is contrary to the premise of the 1993 Oslo Accord which necessitated that these concerns be discussed and resolved within 5 years, 1998 that is. Seventeen years later and no movement on these areas yet.
Israel has managed to manipulate the discussion. Israel came to Annapolis bypassing all previous commitments to its Palestinian neighbors. To me, I believe four major conditions must take place immediately. First, freeze the establishment and the expansion of all the colonies, what some like to wrongly and erroneously call settlements. These colonies are creating facts on the ground. Since the 1993 Oslo Accord, population of these colonies has doubled. Currently, there are 149 colonies in the West Bank with a total population of 450,000. Second, Israel must have an immediate stop to the Apartheid Wall. It is unconscionable that the world went into an uproar against the 90-mile, 12-ft Berlin Wall and can see no fault in the 400-mile, 24-ft Apartheid Israeli Wall that is creating a ghetto and Bantustans and making the West Bank a literal prison. Over 800,000 Palestinians live behind this Apartheid Wall. Third, Israel must immediately lift the embargo on the 1.5 million Gazans and remove the declaration of “hostile entity” imposed on Gaza. Cutting off oil and electricity caused 61,000 workers to lose their jobs immediately. Over 80 percent of Gazans are below the international poverty line, which is $2 per day. This embargo and designation caused farmers to lose their income, paralyzed the hospitals, polluted drinking water and is creating a dangerous crisis. Finally, there must be sufficient guarantees to discuss the real issues. These issues are the right of return and self determination for the refugees, status of Jerusalem, the borders of Israel, the colonies, or what is erroneously called settlements, and the prisoners. Over 12,000 Palestinians are in Israeli jail. In the 11-month period between January and November 2007, Israel released 900 prisoners and arrested 350 0! There is something extremely wrong with this picture.
The world is playing a dangerous game against the Palestinians. Certainly, the United States carries the biggest part of this responsibility. A poll by Daniel Yankelovich’s (http://www.Publicagenda.org) shows that the American public wants US policy to be built on helping foreign countries with their social problems such as poverty, economic growth, disaster relief among other issues.
Number one grievance for the 1.5 billion Muslims around the world is the lack of just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. America continues to misjudge the religious and political significance of this conflict and the impact this one issue has on the Muslim mind and the mind of those who care about justice.
Almost a year ago, Sebnem Arsu of the New York Times reported that leaders from a variety of cultural and religious backgrounds announced a United Nations initiative to resolve the conflict between the West and the Muslim world. Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Mohammad Khatami, the former Iranian president, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, and many others from many nations were among the participants. At the conclusion of their meeting, 20 scholars drafted a report outlining the framework for a workable formula to resolve the conflict between the West and the Muslim World. The framework singled out the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a primary source of “deepening split.” Kofi Anan, the then UN Secretary General, at the conclusion of the conference stated that “No other conflict carries such a powerful symbolic and emotional charge among people far removed from the battlefield. As long as the Palestinians live under occupation, exposed to daily frustration and humiliation, and as long as Israelis are blown up in buses and in dance halls, so long will passions everywhere be inflamed.”
The world is watching. America cannot afford to be on the side of injustice and apartheid. America must do something and do it now.
Ahmad Al-Akhras is the Vice Chair of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. His parents were forced out of Palestine at a very young age. He still believes in justice and the right for self determination. He serves on the Columbus Community Relations Commission and the Ohio Affiliate of the ACLU. Dr. Al-Akhras resides in Columbus, Ohio.