Clayton Swisher, Al Jazeera’s US policy analyst and author of The Truth About Camp David , explores the forthcomimg US-hosted meeting that aims to initiate Palestinian-Israeli dialogue .
The decision by all Arab governments – including Saudi Arabia and Syria – to partake in the Annapolis meeting is a significant advance, and likely to form a footnote in history. Unfortunately, I believe that is as far as it will go.
There are three primary reasons why I do not believe the Annapolis meeting will succeed in establishing a Palestinian state by the end of the US president’s term in office.
The first is that this is not George Bush’s clearly stated objective. Whatever Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, may intend, it is the president who is in charge.
Bush’s beliefs are steadfast, and they reflect little understanding of Palestinian realities: On the one hand, Bush seeks mileage out of the false claim that he is the first US president to call for the creation of a Palestinian state, and he emphasises his plans to “lay the foundation” for the said state.
On the other hand, he acts as if that state had already been created when he demands the fulfilment of near-impossible conditions from a people living under a brutal, 40-year occupation.
The world has heard how the Palestinian Authority must internally reform; more vigorously “fight terror” (ie crush Hamas, give up resistance to occupation and do Israel’s security bidding); “elect new leaders” (ie ones palatable to the United States); pursue democracy (ie broadly defined as empowering the losing party’s armed forces so they can confront legitimately elected opponents); and provide basic services to the local population.
Then, perhaps, if the “behaviour” of the Palestinians reaches Olympian standards, Bush might “spend capital” he has built with Israel and force it to abandon Palestinian land.
The next reason is that the Bush administration has an extraordinarily poor ability – or is it willingness? – to bring about the outcome it claims to seek.
Set aside, momentarily, the seemingly endless quagmire in Iraq, the growing Taliban strength in Afghanistan, the constitutional crisis in Lebanon and the dangerous confrontation with Iran, and consider Palestine alone.
Is it reasonable to expect that this administration will compel Israel to withdraw to the June 4, 1967 lines, or even anywhere close to them, when to this day it has not even been able to get Israel to withdraw to the positions it held on September 28, 2000 – the eve of the second intifada? Then there is Bush’s “road map” in 2003 which called for a Palestinian state by 2005.
Enough said, though it is important to note that the road map was devised to blunt international criticism of the US for abetting Israel’s horrendously disproportionate attacks against the Palestinian population at the time.
TheUS was in “fight terror” mode following the 9-11 attacks, and its war machine was zeroing in on Saddam Hussein’sIraq. The road map thus had more to do with lessening scepticism among “moderate” Arab governments to join the “coalition of the willing” againstIraq as they could show their domestic critics thatAmerica cared aboutPalestine.
If more language emphasising Palestinian statehood does emerge from the US, Israel, and Arab governments from Annapolis, one can only wonder at the degree to which history is repeating itself with Iran.
Even if Bush could be replaced by hard-charging Rice – and he cannot – her own credit rating when it comes to deliverables is shot. To evade the road map, the detailed proposal for a two-state solution known as the Geneva Initiative , and the refusal by reserve Israeli pilots and commandos to partake in the wanton killings of Palestinians, Ariel Sharon, Israel’s former prime minister, countered with his Gaza disengagement plan.
By offloading 8,000 or so Jewish settlers there who had hijacked the lives of 1.4 million Palestinians, Israel was able to win the admiration of Washington. When the international community replied, as well as Israeli courts, that effective control of Gaza had not been relinquished by Israel – that the Gaza occupation still legally remained, secretary Rice appeared in November 2005 to broker the Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA) .
She failed miserably in her first test of pressing Israel on performance: In violation of that agreement, not a single busload of Palestinians ever made it from Gaza to the West Bank, while Palestinian harvests never made it to the market.
A Pollyannaish few believed that after disengagement, Gaza would become a vibrant economic powerhouse, like Dubai. Indifference to the AMA, plus America’s decision to punish the entire population of Gaza for democratically electing Hamas, is why Gaza today more resembles Mogadishu.
The final reason the Annapolis meeting will come to nothing is that it excludes Hamas.
Though it is difficult to prove this through poll results, there is no reason to believe that support for Hamas and the Islamic parties throughout the region has fallen. In fact, I sense the opposite is true. And the secular nationalist parties that have received US support may also have seen a drastic drop in domestic popularity.
Market forces here in the Middle East are moving with a moderate version of political Islam, not against it.
As always, Washington will be late in recognising this fact. In the span of a year, Washington and its international partners hope to inject Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, with political steroids.
How? By standing up the West Bank economically with direct aid, agricultural initiatives and micro-loans (recall the Gaza-Dubai pipedreams).
The thinking is that Hamas, or at least those suffering under its rule, will realise the failure of its politics and convert to Fatah.
Meanwhile, it is also hoped that a weakened Abbas will be able to extract from Israel the terms of a final-status agreement that a much stronger Yassir Arafat was not able to obtain, and sell it not only to his own supporters but also to the Palestinian refugee community in the Diaspora.
I wish secretary Rice and her team the best at Annapolis. But, unlike them, I know that wishing is not enough.