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Henry Siegman on Annapolis (NYReview)

Henry Siegman on Annapolis (NYReview)

   *Annapolis*: The Cost of Failure

       *By Henry Siegman <>*

/Editor's note: In its November 8, 2007 issue, /The New York Review/
published "Failure Risks Devastating Consequences
<>," a letter to President Bush by
Zbigniew Brzezinski, Lee H. Hamilton, Brent Scowcroft, Paul Volcker, and
other former Washington officials from both parties, calling for urgent
action toward a comprehensive Middle East peace settlement at the
Annapolis conference. In response, many readers sent questions to Henry
Siegman, the president of the US/Middle East Project, which was a
co-sponsor of the letter. In this <>
special feature, Mr. Siegman addresses some of those questions and
provides his own analysis of what is at stake at the conference./


One of the first on-line responses to the publication of the letter to
President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was a
simple, straightforward question: "What is in it for Israel?" The "it"
referred to guidelines the letter proposed for an agreement that would
end Israel's occupation of the territories the IDF overran forty years
ago in a conflict—as Israelis were reminded by the celebrated author
David Grossman when he addressed a recent commemoration of Prime
Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination—that is now in its 100th year.

What is in it for Israel should be self-evident, but now that three new
Israeli generations have been born having no memory of Israel without
settlements, it no longer is; for too many, the occupation—and the
spiral of Israeli-Palestinian violence that has come with it—is a given,
the natural order of things.

An agreement that leads to the end of an occupation that with the best
of intentions humiliates and brutalizes an entire nation should be more
than enough of a reason to go for it. The subjugation and permanent
dispossession of millions of people is surely not the vocation of
Judaism, nor is it an acceptable condition for a Jewish national revival.

The argument against an Israeli agreement with President Mahmoud Abbas
and his Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is that they are too weak and
unpopular to implement an accord that would require them to put an end
to the violence of Palestinian rejectionist groups. Indeed, it is
pointed out that the fact that most of the violence in the West Bank
continues to come from the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a faction that
belongs to Abbas's Fatah, underlines the limits of Abbas and Fayyad's
authority and their capacity to establish the rule of law in the

That Abbas has been unable to control violence is true enough, but it is
nevertheless a disingenuous argument. Abbas's weakness is the result of
Israeli policies—primarily the relentless expansion of Israeli
settlements on Palestinian territory that continues even as Prime
Minister Ehud Olmert speaks about removing settlements—that have
convinced most Palestinians that Israel has no intention of returning to
the pre-1967 border and allowing the establishment of a viable
Palestinian state. An Israeli policy that seriously rewarded Abbas for
his moderation—such as a significant release of Palestinian prisoners,
instead of several hundred out of the over 10,000 prisoners being held
by Israel; the removal of physical obstructions and checkpoints that
have strangled Palestinian economic and social life; the dismantlement
of outposts and a freeze on further construction in the settlements, as
required by the Roadmap—would turn Abbas and Fayyad into strong leaders
overnight. But Olmert has until now only offered token "gestures," and
Palestinians have been given no reason to believe that a change in
Israeli policy will occur even when the Palestinians choose leaders
committed to nonviolence and moderation.

Checkpoints and roadblocks designed to prevent the movement of people
and goods throughout the West Bank—well over 500 such obstacles—have
devastated the Palestinian economy and turned Palestinian life, in all
of its aspects, into an endless nightmare. In 2005, following Abbas's
election as president of the Palestinian Authority and before Israel's
dismantlement of its settlements in Gaza, Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice and James Wolfensohn, the former president of the World Bank who
was designated as the envoy of the Quartet (the EU, UN, US, and Russia),
worked out a detailed agreement with the Israeli government to remove
many of these obstacles. The plan included the creation of a safe
passage that would link the populations of the West Bank and Gaza—a
connection that is vitally important to the social, cultural, and
economic life of these geographically separated entities, to which
Israel had already committed itself in the Oslo accords. The whole point
of that agreement was to show Palestinians that Abbas's moderation and
opposition to violence could obtain results that Israel had denied his
predecessor, Yasser Arafat. It proved the opposite. According to
Wolfensohn, Israel violated the agreement before the ink of its
representatives' signatures had dried.

"In the months that followed, every aspect of the agreement was
abrogated," Wolfensohn, an observant Jew and a lifelong friend and
generous philanthropic supporter of Israel, recently told the Israeli
newspaper /Ha'aretz/. Indeed, instead of removing checkpoints, more were
added. Reading the /Ha'aretz/ interview, it is difficult to avoid the
impression that this firsthand experience with Israel's dealings with
the Palestinians profoundly disillusioned Wolfensohn, who came to see
the equities of the conflict in a new light.

       *Syria* and Hamas

The signers of the letter to President Bush stressed that a successful
outcome of the Annapolis conference would require Syria's participation
in the conference, as well as efforts to start a dialogue with Hamas.
Washington overcame its initial reluctance to include Syria. However,
Syria has said it will not attend if the subject of a Syria-Israel peace
agreement will not appear on the Annapolis agenda. Syria's nonattendance
would result in the downgrading of Arab attendance at the meeting to the
ambassadorial rather than ministerial level, which in turn would defeat
the American objective of using the Annapolis gathering to create a
coalition of moderate Arab countries that, together with Israel, would
be prepared to counter the growing threat of Iranian hegemony in the

Syria's absence will also prevent a serious exploration of the Arab
League's 2002 peace initiative, whose promise of full normalization of
relations with the state of Israel is contingent on an Israeli-Syrian
agreement. It would also impede efforts at a resolution of the festering
crisis in Lebanon.

Israel and Washington have made clear their determination to deny Hamas
the fruits of its 2006 victory in the most honest and democratic
election—perhaps the only one—in the Arab Middle East and to return to
power a Fatah leadership that lost those elections. This has surely
given Hamas's leadership an incentive to undermine any agreement reached
by Abbas in Annapolis, or in the negotiations that are supposed to
follow the conference. But if Abbas emerges from Annapolis with
parameters for an agreement with Israel that will be seen as fair by the
Palestinian public—even if such parameters were not explicated in a
joint statement of principles by Olmert and Abbas but by Bush in his
address to the meeting—Hamas would damage its standing with the
Palestinian public if it were to seek to wreck such an accomplishment.
Palestinians have suffered too much for too long to tolerate that kind
of recklessness.

Israel and the US have disqualified Hamas as a peace partner not only
because it has refused to recognize Israel but also because it refuses
to be bound by previous agreements between the PLO and Israel's
government. A recent Op-Ed in Israel's /Yedioth Ahronot/ newspaper by
Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington and a longtime
senior adviser to Likud prime ministers, illustrates the manipulative
character of Israel's diplomacy. Shoval asks in his Op-Ed piece, "How
could the government that would replace Olmert's cabinet be able to free
itself from the pledges and commitments to be made in Annapolis," given
the "basic principle of international law that every government inherits
the rights and obligations of its predecessors...?"

What is remarkable is not only the shamelessness of a Likud leader,
himself a prominent Israeli lawyer, urging publicly that Israel find
ways to violate commitments it is about to make to the Palestinians in a
meeting to which the president of the United States is a party, but of
the answer Shoval proposes: This principle of international law applies
only to states, and "after all, it is difficult to define the
Palestinian Authority as a state." Apparently not /so/ difficult as to
prevent Israel from starving the civilian population of Gaza by
pretending that Hamas /is/ to be defined as a state.

Be that as it may, Abbas will have to negotiate with Hamas the
reestablishment of a unity government even in the highly unlikely event
Annapolis is a success. He cannot risk the permanent separation of Gaza
from the West Bank, nor will the Palestinian public allow him to take
that risk. An even greater risk is that without a unity government,
Hamas—which has significant political support in the West Bank—will
replace Fatah in the West Bank as well. Hamas will exist at least as
long as Fatah, and Palestinian governance will have to reflect that reality.

       *Palestinian Compromises*

Is Abbas prepared to agree to compromises that Palestinians must make if
there is to be an agreement with Israel? The answer is yes, if the
demands for compromise do not go beyond those envisioned in President
Clinton's proposals and in the Taba discussions that followed the failed
Camp David summit in 2000. The parameters of an agreement reflecting
those compromises are outlined in the letter from Scowcroft, Brzezinski,
Hamilton, et al. to President Bush and Secretary Rice.

It is not true, as Israelis often claim, that Palestinians refuse to
compromise. (Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu famously
complained that "Palestinians take and take while Israel gives and
gives.") That is an indecent charge, not only because so far Israel has
given Palestinians nothing, but because Palestinians made the most
far-reaching compromise of all when, in 1988, Arafat formally accepted
the legitimacy of Israel within the 1949 armistice line (i.e., the
pre-1967 border). With that concession, Palestinians gave up their claim
to more than half the territory that the United Nations 1947 Partition
Resolution had assigned to Palestine's Arab inhabitants. Palestinians
have never received credit for this wrenching and historic concession,
made well before Israel formally recognized that Palestinians have a
right to sovereignty in any part of Palestine. The notion that
Palestinians can now be compelled to accept "border adjustments" at the
expense of the 22 per cent of the territory that is left them is deeply
offensive to Palestinians, and understandably so.

Also forgotten is that at the Camp David summit Palestinians agreed to
border adjustments to the pre-1967 borders that would allow large
numbers of West Bank settlers—about 70 percent—to remain within the
Jewish state, in an equal exchange of territory on both sides of the
border. Barak rejected the principle of one-to-one land swaps.

In the past, the Palestinian demand that Israel accept the Palestinian
refugees' "right of return" to their homes was a serious obstacle to a
peace agreement. But the Arab League's peace initiative of 2002 leaves
no doubt that what Arab countries are demanding is Israel's acceptance
of that right in principle, while agreeing that the number of refugees
allowed to return would be subject to Israel's agreement.

If Annapolis fails, it will be because of Israel's rejection of the
single most central condition for success: full disclosure of its
definition of viable Palestinian statehood. Olmert has already reneged
on his earlier endorsement of Rice's insistence that the meeting must
produce a joint statement outlining a permanent status agreement to
avoid becoming a meaningless photo op, and it remains unlikely that any
meaningful joint declaration can be reached.

According to Aluf Benn, /Ha'aretz/'s diplomatic correspondent, Olmert is
adept at marching "in the no-man's land between talk and action." For
Olmert, Benn says, engaging in high-level talks and granting gestures to
the Palestinians creates "the most convenient diplomatic situation,"
because such gestures are "in themselves sufficient to remove
international pressure on Israel to withdraw from the territories and to
end the occupation." At the same time, "as long as it's all talk and
there are no agreements," internal pressures not to cede the territories
are neutralized. Olmert seems to have succeeded in turning Annapolis
into that kind of no-man's land.

       *The Cost of Failure*

The importance of reaching such an agreement now rather than in the
future should be self-evident. For if Annapolis fails, the likelihood
that Israel will again have a moderate Palestinian interlocutor is close
to zero. Not only the prospect of a moderate Palestinian leadership but
also the commitment of all Arab countries to normalizing relations with
Israel following a peace agreement will be casualties. Hamas's
insistence that moderation, as understood by Israel, is a synonym for
Palestinian capitulation will become widely accepted, and not only in
the Arab world.

The disillusionment that would follow a failed effort in Annapolis would
therefore leave Israel with the most dismal of prospects for renewing a
peace process with the Palestinians and with Arab countries. It
certainly could not happen in circumstances as favorable as they are
today, for the growing skepticism in US policy circles about Israel's
real intentions in the territories, as suggested by the letter to Bush
and Rice by this country's most eminent elder statesmen and stateswomen,
is bound to change what has been the reflexive US support that Israel
has been able to count on until now, particularly during the past two

More important, should Annapolis fail, prospects for resuming a viable
peace process at some future date will be made increasingly unlikely by
the changing demographic balance in Palestine. A clear Arab majority in
historic Palestine, a situation that is imminent, will persuade
Palestinians and their leaders that the quest for a two-state solution
is a fool's pursuit. They may conclude that rather than settling for
even less than 22 percent of Palestine—i.e., less than half the
territory that the international community confirmed in the 1947
Partition Resolution of the UN is the legitimate patrimony of
Palestine's Arab population—it would be better to renounce separate
Palestinian statehood and instead demand equal rights in a state of
Israel that includes all of Palestine. Why settle for crumbs now if as a
result of their decisive majority they will soon become the dominant
political and cultural force in all of Palestine?

If the international community has been largely indifferent to—or
impotent to do anything about—what some have tried to portray as a
quarrel between Israel and Palestinians over where to draw the border
between the two, it is far less likely to remain indifferent to an
Israel intent on permanently denying its majority Arab population the
rights and privileges it accords to its minority of Jewish citizens. It
would be an apartheid regime that, one hopes, a majority of Israelis
would themselves not abide.

Annapolis may well be a historic watershed—the last opportunity to
salvage not only a two-state solution but a Jewish state that remains a

/—November 21, 2007/

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