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What they said and didn’t say at Annapolis
 The “Never-Never” Peace Talks

 
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by Sonja Karkar
Women for Palestine - Melbourne Australia

Although “never-never” has long been used to describe the remote outback of
Australia, the term is also known as fantasyland, especially when someone
dreams about a utopian future - an apt description of what has been going on
in Annapolis. The staged seriousness of the moment was well illustrated
when an unusually be-spectacled US President George Bush read the joint
understanding that said nothing more than what has been said so many times
before. Yet, Israel’s Prime Minister Olmert was determined not to lose the
photo opportunity and insisted that it capture the President shaking hands
with him and Palestinian President Abbas. For Israel, nothing was lost and
time gained. For the Palestinians, peace was left hanging in the
“never-never”.

The essence of that joint understanding requires Israel and the Palestinians
to commit to ongoing talks and to implement immediately their obligations
under the more than 5-year-old performance-based Road Map, until a peace
treaty is reached, as judged by the US. This Road Map to a permanent
two-state solution was supposed to reach “a final and comprehensive
settlement of the Israel-Palestinian conflict by 2005.” It did not, and two
years later, the parties are still only committing to a process that the US
hopes will see a permanent status agreement by the end of 2008.

For the Palestinians, this is just more of the same, but with evermore dire
consequences. They have already met their obligations: Israel has not. The
Roadmap explicitly states that “the parties are expected to perform their
obligations in parallel”. But, while the Palestinians reiterated Israel’s
right to exist in peace and security, called for a ceasefire, called for the
ending of armed activities against Israelis, and conducted institutional and
economic reforms, Israel continued its military assaults on the occupied
territories, continued to build illegal settlements and expropriate
Palestinian land, and did nothing but pay lip service to removing the
draconian grid of checkpoints that suffocate the Palestinian population.

As recently as 19 November, Olmert said that Israel would not “build new
settlements” or “expropriate lands” and that it was committed to
“dismantling the illegal outposts.” [1] Yet, Israel has already
expropriated more than 40 per cent of West Bank land and has reserved it for
settlements and their expansion: it is on that very land that Olmert will
allow the building of settlement “neighbourhoods” to continue. According to
the Road Map, there is no distinction between legal or illegal outposts
because all Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and so
the freeze on building applies to all Palestinian territory occupied by
Israel in 1967, including East Jerusalem. However, there is no freeze and
never has been.

There is nothing the Palestinians can do to stop Israel going full steam
ahead with the whole settlement enterprise and there is no international
body prepared or game enough to stop Israel as long as the US gives it the
green light. For all the talk of peace and expectations that the
Palestinians must comply with their obligations, Israel continues to give
subsidies and economic incentives for settlers and authorises the urban
planning of settlements. If Palestinian homes or agricultural land are in
the way, they are demolished, destroyed and confiscated. Israel has the
military might to enforce whatever it wants without fear of any damaging
retribution or being reined in. There is absolutely no bona fide intention
on Israel’s part to adhere to any of its obligations which makes the whole
Annapolis charade and its timetable of negotiations, an exercise in
futility.

This is not a conflict between two equals. The Palestinians are under
Israel’s military occupation and ought never to have agreed to take part in
the talks while Israel remains their keeper. Already, Olmert has
condescendingly referred to Abbas as “a weak partner, who is not capable”
and who most likely will have to be given the tools “to reach an
understanding on the guidelines for an agreement.” [2] His words show no
respect for a negotiating partner, but rather disdain towards an inferior
who will have to toe the line. The US might be standing between them as
interlocutor, but with the staggering billions of economic and military aid
that it showers on Israel annually, Abbas can expect no fairness on the real
issues.

Palestinians everywhere must be wondering just what sort of freedom, peace
and hope, President Bush has in mind for them. It was quite disconcerting
to hear the President suggest that millions across the Middle East would be
inspired “when liberty takes root on the Iraqi soil of the West Bank and
Gaza …” Was he thinking about Iraq or Gaza, or did he not know the
difference? Abbas, however, did address his people in Gaza and referred to
their “hours of darkness” and that their suffering would end when “right and
peace will prevail.” All these lofty words though are empty echoes as more
than a million people in Gaza gasp in isolation under the punishing
sanctions that Israel and the world have visited on them. Olmert showed no
compassion and only sought to isolate them further when he described a place
of terror under the rule of Hamas

The Palestinians might as well have been on a distant planet because Olmert
made it clear that he came “not in order to settle historical accounts”
despite their suffering for many years and “living for decades in camps,
disconnected from the environment in which they grew up . . .” In effect, he
was saying that Israel is not responsible and that Israel would not accept
the refugees right of return to their original homes under United Nations
resolution 194. Their future, according to Olmert, would be in an
agreed-upon Palestinian state, and by that we can infer, within borders of
Israel’s choosing. This would effectively put the seal on their
dispossession and force them to surrender their inalienable rights. There
was no mention of Jerusalem.

In all these proceedings, the United Nations was sidelined. And this is
despite its role in the partitioning of Palestine in 1947, and then its
subsequent passing of many resolutions in favour of the Palestinians. This
became very apparent the next day when the US withdrew a resolution put
before the UN Security Council endorsing the Annapolis agreement to reach a
peace settlement by the end of 2008. According to Israel’s deputy
ambassador Daniel Carmon, it was not the proper venue because “we feel that
the appreciation of Annapolis has other means of being expressed than in a
resolution.” US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, said there was “no
reason to gild the lily” and Abbas saw it as a sign “of an American position
supporting the negotiations.” It seems that this “momentous decision” had
to be saved from UN dilution because “the positive results of Annapolis
speak for themselves.” [3]

One does not have to look hard for evidence of Israel’s oppressive military
practices against the Palestinians. But, the world does have to look hard at
itself and ask why it has allowed a man-made human catastrophe to go on
relentlessly for 60 years without a whimper of protest against Israel. Even
a cursory look at the last 16 years of peace talks, beginning with the Oslo
preliminaries, would show that Annapolis is nothing more than another
delaying tactic that is intended to allow Israel to establish its Jewish
state in all of Palestine. Experience tells us that this latest process
will probably be as drawn out as all the others. And that about sums up a
meeting that will now enter the realms of the “never-never” peace talks.
_______________

Footnotes:

[1] “Olmert vows to halt new settlements”, Mail & Guardian Online, 19
November 2007
http://www.mg.co.za/articlepage.aspx?area=/breaking_news/breaking_news__inte
rnational_news/&articleid=325376&referrer=RSS

[2] Olmert to Haaretz: Two-state solution, or Israel is done for” by Aluf
Benn, David Landau, Barak Ravid and Shmuel Rosner, Haaretz, 28 November
2007. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/929439.html

[3] “US withdraws Mideast resolution at UN” by Edith M Lederer, Associated
Press Writer with Matthew Lee contributing, Yahoo News, 1 December 2007
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20071130/ap_on_re_mi_ea/un_mideast

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