'Give 'em a state!'

Al Jazeera's Marwan Bishara says US-Israeli politics make a Palestinian state unlikely.



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    When George Bush, the US president, responds to Palestinian complaints of Israel's siege, refusal to negotiate over Jerusalem and the refugees, and settlement expansion by saying 'Give 'em a state', I am reminded of Marie Antoinette's response to starving French peasants: Let them eat cake.

    And so it will be when Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, meets Bush for what may be his last visit to the US as Israeli premier.

    The two leaders are expected to advocate negotiations over a 'framework agreement' that foresees a "Palestinian state" but foregoes dismantling the settlements, withdrawing to the 1967 borders including in Jerusalem, or finding a just resolution to the 3.7 million Palestinian refugees and displaced.

    Judging from US and Israeli declarations, the two men may have reckoned that the Palestinians will be tempted by the symbolic trappings of a state which they have long sought, even when in reality it is no more than a Bantustan.

    And once again, just as the 'peace process' stumbles and stagnates and is exposed for the hoax it is, diplomacy will stall as Israel and America prepare for elections.

    Processing peace

    Since the peace process started 15 year ago - with an expiration date of five years - internal Israeli wrangling has undercut signed agreements and delayed their implementation.

    After the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the former prime minister, in 1994, the country has changed seven governments - an average of a new government every couple of years.

    By the time those governments were set in place and called for new elections, they had a year or so in power to implement policy. The lack of will on the part of those governments to take the necessary calculated risks to make peace, allowed the open-ended process to breed contempt and its confidence-building measures to create suspicion and distrust.

    Successive Israeli governments proved incapable of fulfilling their international obligations to withdraw from occupied territories or dismantle settlements because of domestic repercussion and the threat of coalition breakdown.

    These governments have insisted on limiting the negotiations to interim agreements and signed seven of them in the seven years between 1993 and 2000.

    In the process, the number of Israeli settlers and settlements doubled in the occupied and autonomous territories infuriating the Palestinians and eventually leading to the second Palestinian Uprising. The Israeli public, having grown ever more disgruntled and insecure because of suicide attacks, then becomes keen on changing those in power.

    The majority of these governments were coalitions of various parties and heavily dependent on extremist and fundamentalist political trends that have either rejected negotiations or the principle of compromise.

    Diplomatic paralysis

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    When Bush laid out his 'vision' of two states living "side by side" in 2002 - a solution long advocated by the international community and blocked by successive US administrations - the situation in Palestine has gone from bad to worse.

    Entrusting the establishment of a Palestinian state to Ariel Sharon, the former prime minister, and his protégé Olmert, is like trusting the fox with the hen house.

    The long-sought legal separation of the two peoples into two sovereign states along the 1967 border soon turned into demographic segregation of Palestinians allowing Israel to control maximum lands with minimum Palestinians.

    It also rendered the Gaza strip with its 1.5 million Palestinians, 80 percent of whom are refugees, the largest concentration camp for the impoverished and disgruntled of the world.

    Meanwhile, the international community's role has been reduced to the role of Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, and the Quartet's representative, Tony Blair as he assesses Israeli roadblocks and checkpoints and recommends lifting a few out of the 600 barriers that have long limited Palestinian access to work, health, education and markets, in the name of Israeli security.

    Personal legacy supersedes peace strategy

    As Bush entered his last year in office, he convened the Annapolis meeting as a last-ditch effort to salvage his legacy and arrive at a face saving-settlement that would balance his self inflicted 'War president' moniker.

    Although the meeting failed to make any serious progress, it randomly designated 2008 the year of peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

    But within a few weeks, the Olmert government backed out of its commitments in the Annapolis summit. Under pressure from his extremist partners, Shas and Yisrael Beteino parties, he steered away from the final status issues like Jerusalem and the refugees, to maintain his coalition.

    Like Bill Clinton before him, Bush's end-of-term attempt to convene an ill-prepared summit and conclude a final agreement was motivated by personal legacy not peace strategy and therefore is destined to fail.

    Progress in the peace process is possible only when it is freed from the logic of domestic and bilateral American and Israeli politics and entrusted to the international community on the basis of international law.

    The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Al Jazeera.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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