Annapolis peace summit faces major challenges
By Ray Hanania
If Israel really wanted to torpedo the Annapolis Peace Summit, as some Arabs insist, it wouldn’t have to work very hard to do it. The Palestinians and most Arabs are already trashing the Summit, which promises only to define a framework in which Israelis and Palestinians can begin final status negotiations. But Palestinians and Israelis seem skeptical. Many Palestinians believe the stumbling block is that Israel does not want to surrender the land it has annexed after occupying the West Bank in 1967, while Israelis have doubts a peace accord will lead to an end to violence. Israelis respond by pointing to the fact that they did return the Gaza Strip. Israelis argue that the Hamas terrorist organization has turned the Gaza into a military threat and base from which they fire Kassam Rockets into Israel. Although Israel did withdrew its military from the Gaza, ending Israel’s day-to-day military occupation of the small Mediterranean territory, Israel continues to “control” Gaza from the outside, turning it into a huge population prison.
No one can enter or leave Gaza without Israeli approval, and Israel continues to control basic services such as water and electricity, which they can turn on and off at will.
Though the Gaza is not a model of what peace might bring, there is still hope if both sides enter negotiations with sincerity and fairness.
Hamas does not control the West Bank. Moderate Palestinians who support compromise based on “two-states” are in the majority and control the government.
Yet, will Israel really share Jerusalem and allow Palestinians sovereignty there? Will Israel dismantle the major settlements which were built illegally and in violation of international law?
Will Palestinians accept a two-state compromise and do their part to silence the extremists and destroy the terrorists in their own community. And, will Palestinians finally accept what fate has seen as inevitable, surrendering claims to former lands and homes in pre-1967 Israel?
Complicating all this are the actions Israel has taken already on the land in the West Bank. Israel does not want to dismantle the major settlements at all, only the insignificant settlement outposts.
Israel has taken steps to protect most of those settlements, dividing them into two groups, those that encircle Jerusalem, with more than 250,000 settlers on land that was seized in 1967, and those outside of this circle of annexed land with a population of about 200,000 settlers.
In other words, Israel refuses to dismantle the Jerusalem settlements in the West Bank, in effect imposing a compromise on the Palestinians without giving Palestinians anything in return.
The Israeli media reports Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will trade land in Israel for land it keeps in the West Bank on an inch-for-inch basis, an improvement on what was offered at Camp David under President Clinton in 2000.
But not addressed will be the issue of the Palestinian Right of Return. Palestinians say their President Mahmoud Abbas will concede on this issue, but only if it is clear that Israel dismantles settlements or offers trade-offs, and agrees to share Jerusalem.
More than 700,000 Palestinians were forced into refugee status in the 1948 war, leaving their lands and homes which are inside pre-1967 Israel.
Palestinians predict Abbas can only concede on the Right of Return if Israel’s concessions result in a sovereign Palestinian state on a contiguous West Bank land mass and not on a West Bank that remains divided into several mini-Gaza Strips.
Today, the West Bank is divided by Israeli-only roads controlled by the Israeli military, and by the 24 foot tall concrete Wall, which is built deep inside the West Bank and that Israelis argue was built for security.
But the Wall, which Israelis cleverly describe as a “fence,” is mainly intended to give Israel control over more West Bank land and especially the West Bank’s water wells, which are encircled and on the Israeli side of the wall.
Palestinians have supported the building of the Wall to separate both peoples and create security, but they have insisted Israel should build it on the old “Green Line” which defines the borders of Israel and the occupied territories after the 1948 war.
Bush says he hopes to achieve a peace before he retires from office in January 2008. It is a startling reminder of the mad-rush to peace former President Clinton led in 2000 months before his own retirement from office.
Clinton’s peace efforts failed because he never allowed the leaders, then Israeli President Ehud Barak and Palestinian Yasser Arafat, to negotiate face-to-face.
Instead, Clinton had a pro-Israel intermediary, Dennis Ross, take Israeli proposals and present them to Arafat as if they were made by Clinton, a supposed objective arbiter.
What Middle East peace really needs today is a sincere commitment by both Israel and the Palestinians to reach a compromise.
And, more importantly, they need to be nudged by a fair arbiter. If Bush resorts to the tactics used by Clinton to rush through a peace that he could cite as his legacy, then these peace talks like all those in the past, will certainly fail.
Israeli must be ready to end the occupation, recognize the suffering of the Palestinian refugees and support their relocation and compensation, and be prepared to share Jerusalem.
One hope for Israel is that this summit includes representatives of every major Arab country, including Saudi Arabia and Syria, which wishes to trade peace for the return of the Golan Heights.
Palestinians must be ready to respond by turning their attentions inward, destroying the terrorist infra-structure that has grown like a cancer in the Gaza Strip and that will soon flourish in the West Bank if peace does not arrive soon.
In order for Abbas to be able to destroy Hamas, he must first have in his hand an agreement that defines a sovereign Palestinian State that, unlike Gaza, is free to act like a real nation, rather than as a prisoner in their own homes.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian columnist and author. Copyright Arab Writers Group Syndicate, http://www.ArabWritersGroup.com).