Peace Beyond Annapolis

— Hasan Newash and David Finkel

[This article was written as an op-ed for submission to a Detroit daily newspaper, but remains unpublished there. Hasan Newash, born in the Jerusalem suburb Ein Kerem, is director of the Palestine Office in Dearborn, Michigan. David Finkel is an editor of ATC and member of the Detroit chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace. For information on JVP visit www.jewishvoiceforpeace.org. The views expressed here are the opinions of the authors.]

WHAT ARE THE prospects for progress toward Israeli-Palestinian and regional peace coming out of the one-day conference called by president George W. Bush? One leading Arab-American organization offering a positive vision “hopes to see a just, comprehensive and lasting peace result out of the initial Middle East peace discussions taking place in Annapolis, Maryland.”

To accomplish this would require “the United States to use its considerable influence in securing compliance with all applicable United Nations resolutions and international law (to secure) the rights of the Palestinian people to freedom, equality and self-determination in an independent and fully sovereign state and the return of all occupied Arab lands as recognized under international law.” (American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee press release, Monday, October 26)

Although the ADC statement left out addressing the Palestinian refugee question explicitly, it is a good concise summary of what’s required to break the appalling tragic cycle of death, impoverishment and humiliation that’s being inflicted daily on 1.5 million Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.

On the other hand, the great majority of expert Middle East observers, as well as former U.S. peace negotiators, see little prospect for movement forward beyond Annapolis. It is worth looking at the reasons for this pessimism, which we frankly share.

* In the first place, contrary to surface impressions the Palestinian people have not really been a party to these summit negotiations. Neither the government chosen by the Palestinians in 2006 in the freest election held in any Arab nation, led by Hamas, nor the unity government created earlier this year following U.S. efforts to provoke an intra-Palestinian civil war, have participated. Rather, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas has been included in the negotiations with the explicit U.S. and Israeli government aim of “strengthening his hand against Hamas.” The idea that peace can be achieved by destroying Palestinian democracy is both morally indecent and foolish: Mahmoud Abbas himself will be crippled, not bolstered. The reality is that Abbas is forced to surrender his people’s aspirations in exchange for disconnected and unviable fragments of land chopped up by Israeli settlements and the annexation-apartheid Wall.

The Israeli government of prime minister Ehud Olmert is extremely weak, especially with Olmert himself under multiple investigations for alleged financial crimes. This government could not, even if it wished, confront the Israeli settler lobby and its powerful American Zionist supporters in order to make a genuine two-state agreement possible. But there is no reason to imagine that the Olmert government even wants such an agreement. The longstanding strategic goal of successive Israeli governments has been to maintain a “peace process” that lasts forever, without producing actual peace — a “peace process” that provides cover for expanding settlements, seizing more Palestinian land and consolidating what former U.S. president Jimmy Carter quite rightly calls an apartheid-like system in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

* The Bush administration, in our view, is deeply driven by priorities quite different from Palestinian/Israeli peace. Its fundamental regional priority is to build a coalition of states to isolate and weaken Iran — ultimately perhaps to attack that country, although that is not feasible at present due to the American disaster in Iraq and the fear that war with Iran might cause an unimaginable spike in oil prices. Washington’s Arab allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia need, for their support of the Bush administration’s anti-Iranian agenda, some gestures to create the appearance of progress toward resolving the tragedy of Palestine.

When all this is added up, we think it looks like the Palestinian people are being treated — not for the first time — as pawns in the chess games of imperial power, regional petroleum-rich kingdoms and local dictators. We’d like to be proven wrong, but we see no sign of the concentrated political will and muscle that would be required to end the Israeli Occupation — including suspending U.S. military aid to Israel, ending the huge American subsidies that enable settlements, apartheid roads and the Wall to spread like cancers, and immediate action by the European Union to end Israel’s privileged economic relations with the EU until the criminal closure of Gaza ends.

We suggest a different approach for the American people. Our country needs to free itself of the destructive delusion that political problems in the Middle East (or anywhere else) can be “settled” through overwhelming application of “shock and awe” military force by the United States along with Israel. We’ve seen where that delusion got us in Iraq. We’ve seen where it got Israel in Lebanon in 2006. We’d better stop before we find out where it gets us in Iran.

For the American people’s own sake as well as for the Palestinian and Israeli peoples, it’s time to abandon emphasis on photo opportunities and instead make a serious move toward respecting the basic principles of human rights and international law: End the Occupation. Tear down the Wall. Free the prisoners. Then peace has a chance.

from ATC 132 (January/February 2008)

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