The Annapolis conference is a joke. Though not in the least funny.
Like quite a lot of political initiatives, this one too, according to all the indications, started more or less by accident. George Bush was due to make a speech. He was looking for a theme that would give it some substance. Something that would divert attention away from his fiascos in Iraq and Afghanistan. Something simple, optimistic, easy to swallow…
So Bush voiced the idea: a "meeting" for the promotion of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Without any preceding strategic planning, any careful preparations, anything much at all.
That’s why Bush did not go into any details: no clear aim, no agenda, no location, no date, no list of invitees. Just an ethereal meeting. This fact by itself testifies to the lack of seriousness of the entire enterprise….
This could, therefore, become a great, almost historic conference, if all these hopes were something more than pipedreams. None of them has any substance. For one simple reason: no one of the three partners has any capital at his disposal.
Bush is bankrupt. In order to succeed at Annapolis, he would have to exert intense pressure on Israel, to compel it to take the necessary steps: agree to the establishment of a real Palestinian state, give up East Jerusalem, restore the Green Line border (with some small swaps of territory), find an agreed-upon compromise formula for the refugee issue.
But Bush is quite unable to exert the slightest pressure on Israel, even if he wanted to. In the US, the election season has already begun, and the two big parties are bulwarks standing in the way of any pressure on Israel. The Jewish and Evangelistic lobbies, together with the neo-cons, will not allow one critical word about Israel to be uttered unpunished.
Olmert is in an even weaker position. His coalition still survives only because there is no alternative in the present Knesset. It includes elements that in any other country would be called fascist (For historical reasons, Israelis don’t like to use this term). He is prevented by his partners from making any compromise, however tiny – even if he wanted to reach an agreement.
This week, the Knesset adopted a bill that requires a two-thirds majority for any change of the borders of Greater Jerusalem. This means that Olmert cannot even give up one of the outlying Palestinian villages that were annexed to Jerusalem in 1967. He is also prevented from even approaching the ‘core issues" of the conflict.
Mahmoud Abbas cannot move away from the conditions laid down by Yasser Arafat (the 3rd anniversary of whose death was commemorated this week). If he strays from the straight and narrow, he will fall. He has already lost the Gaza Strip, and can lose the West Bank, too. On the other side, if he threatens violence, he will lose all he has got: the favor of Bush and the cooperation of the Israeli security forces.
The three poker players are going to sit down together, pretending to start the game, while none of them has a cent to put on the table….
Not one of the three leaders is still dreaming of an achievement. All they hope for now is to minimize the damage – but how to get out of a situation like this?
As usual, our side is the most creative at this task. After all, we are experts in building roadblocks, walls and fences. This week, an obstacle larger then the Great Wall of China appeared.
Ehud Olmert demanded that, before any negotiations, the Palestinians "recognize Israel as a Jewish state". He was followed by his coalition partner, the ultra-right Avigdor Liberman, who proposed staying away from Annapolis altogether if the Palestinians do not fulfill this demand in advance.
Let’s examine this condition for a moment:
The Palestinians are not required to recognize the state of Israel. After all, they have already done so in the Oslo agreement – in spite of the fact that Israel has yet to recognize the right of the Palestinians to a state of their own based on the Green Line borders.
No, the government of Israel demands much more: the Palestinians must now recognize Israel as a "Jewish state".
Does the USA demand to be recognized as a "Christian" or "Anglo-Saxon state"? Did Stalin demand that the US recognize the Soviet Union as a "Communist state"? Does Poland demand to be recognized as a "Catholic state", or Pakistan as an "Islamic state"? Is there any precedent at all for a state to demand the recognition of its domestic regime?
The demand is ridiculous per se. But this can easily be shown by analysis ad absurdum.
What is a "Jewish state"? That has never been spelled out….
WHEN THE leaders of the Jewish community in Palestine were about to sign the Declaration of independence on May 14, 1948, the document was not ready. Sitting in front of the cameras and history, they had to sign on an empty page. I am afraid that something like that will happen in Annapolis.
And then all of them will head back to their respective homes, heaving a heartfelt sigh of relief.
Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is o a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.
Why Israel Has No "Right to Exist" as a Jewish State
So let us boldly ask: What exactly is entailed by the requirement to recognise Israel as a Jewish state? What do we recognise and support when we purchase a delightful avocado or a date from Israel or when we invite Israel to take part in an international football event? What does it mean to be a friend of Israel? What precisely is that Jewish state whose status as such would be once and for all legitimised by such a two-state solution?…
Saeb Erekat, chief negotiator for the Palestine Liberation Organization, rejected on Monday the government’s demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
view with Israel Radio, Erekat said that "no state in the world connects its national identity to a religious identity."…