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Israelis, Palestinians Open U.S.-Backed Conference With Vague Statement on Timeline, Goals

Israelis, Palestinians Open U.S.-Backed Conference With Vague Statement on Timeline, Goals

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=07/11/28/159212

Israel and the Palestinian Authority have agreed to launch immediately peace negotiations with the goal of reaching a full treaty by the end of 2008. But Israel has already said it will delay talks on core issues, including the status of Jerusalem, the borders of a Palestinian state, the future of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the fate of Palestinian refugees. We speak with Palestinian lawmaker and physician Mustafa Barghouti and former Israeli peace negotiator Daniel Levy. [includes rush transcript - partial]

 


In Annapolis, Maryland on Tuesday, Israel and the Palestinian Authority announced they have agreed to launch immediately peace negotiations with the goal of reaching a full treaty by the end of 2008. President Bush opened the Annapolis conference by reading aloud a joint statement agreed upon by the two sides just minutes before.

 

  • President Bush.
Bush went on to say Israel and the Palestinians would try to reach an agreement on a treaty and Palestinian statehood by the end of next year, when Bush is due to leave office. The first negotiations would start on December 12th, with meetings to be held every two weeks after that. The announcement was made before high-level diplomats from nearly 50 countries and international bodies. They included top envoys from more than a dozen Arab states, including Syria and Saudi Arabia. In his speech, President Bush said reaching a full peace deal by the end of 2008 was possible.

 

  • President Bush.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the talks must include the status of Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital and the future of refugees.

 

  • Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told conference attendees that the negotiations inaugurated at Annapolis would address issues that previous talks had avoided.

 

  • Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
While the Bush administration has sought to portray the Annapolis conference as a milestone, skepticism of the outcome is high. Major differences remain between the Israelis and Palestinians over core issues like the status of Jerusalem, the borders of a Palestinian state, the future of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the fate of Palestinian refugees. Meanwhile, Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, was not invited to the conference. The group denounced the talks as tens of thousands of supporters rallied in Gaza City in protest. In the West Bank, Palestinian security forces broke up several protests against the Annapolis gathering. One man was killed in Hebron, and at least 35 people were wounded. And in Jerusalem, Israelis gathered at the Western Wall to protest against the conference.

For more on the Annapolis conference, we are joined by two guests.

They both join us from Washington, D.C.

 

  • Mustafa Barghouti. Independent Palestinian lawmaker and democracy activist. He is the former information minister of the Palestinian Authority. In 2005, he ran for president, finishing second to Mahmoud Abbas.

 

  • Daniel Levy. Former Israeli peace negotiator and has served as adviser to the governments of Ehud Barak and Yitzhak Rabin. He is currently a senior fellow of the Middle East Policy Initiative at the New America Foundation.

 

AMY GOODMAN: In Annapolis, Maryland on Tuesday, Israel and the Palestinian Authority announced they have agreed to immediately launch peace negotiations with the goal of reaching a full treaty by the end of 2008. President Bush opened the Annapolis conference by reading aloud a joint statement agreed upon by the two sides just minutes before.

    PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The representatives of the government of the state of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, represented respectively by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas in his capacity as Chairman of the PLO Executive Committee --

AMY GOODMAN: Bush went on to say Israel and the Palestinians would try to reach an agreement on a treaty and Palestinian statehood by the end of next year, when Bush is due to leave office. The first negotiations would start on December 12, with meetings to be held every two weeks after that.

The announcement was made before high-level diplomats from nearly fifty countries and international bodies. They included top envoys from more than a dozen Arab states, including Syria and Saudi Arabia.

In his speech, President Bush said reaching a full peace deal by the end of 2008 is possible. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the talks must include the status of Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital and the future of refugees.

    PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS: [translated] To achieve that, peace does not depend on the Arab and Islamic position itself, but requires meeting this position with a reciprocal strategic willingness that would basically lead to ending the occupation in all Palestinian occupied territories of 1967, including East Jerusalem, as well as the Syrian Golan and what remains of occupied Lebanese territories, as well as all other issues relating to the conflict, especially the Palestinian refugee question.

AMY GOODMAN: Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told conference attendees the negotiations inaugurated at Annapolis would address issues that previous talks had avoided.

    PRIME MINISTER EHUD OLMERT: [translated] We will not shy away from any topic. We will deal with all the core issues. I have no doubt that the reality that emerged in our region will change significantly. This will be an extremely difficult process for all of us, but it nevertheless is inevitable.

AMY GOODMAN: While the Bush administration has sought to portray the Annapolis conference as a milestone, skepticism of the outcome is high. Major differences remain between the Israelis and Palestinians over core issues like the status of Jerusalem, the border of a Palestinian state, the future of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the fate of Palestinian refugees.

Meanwhile, Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, was not invited to the conference. The group denounced the talks, as tens of thousands of supporters rallied in Gaza City in protest. In the West Bank, Palestinian security forces broke up several protests against the Annapolis gathering. One man was killed in Hebron, at least thirty-five people wounded. And in Jerusalem, Israelis gathered at the Western Wall to protest against the conference.

For more on the Annapolis conference, we're joined by two guests. Mustafa Barghouti is an independent Palestinian lawmaker and democracy activist. He is the former information minister of the Palestinian Authority. In 2005, he ran for president, finishing second to Mahmoud Abbas. Daniel Levy is a former Israeli peace negotiator. He served as adviser to the governments of Ehud Barak and Yitzhak Rabin. He is currently a senior fellow of the Middle East Policy Initiative at the New America Foundation. They join us both from Washington, D.C.

Daniel Levy, what did you expect to come of the conference? Did it meet your expectations?

DANIEL LEVY: Well, the expectations were low, Amy. And thank you for having us on, and it’s an honor to be with you. And when the expectations are low, they expectations can be met. So I think we knew in advance that this conference wasn’t going to be about substance.

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: I can’t hear him. Is he speaking?

DANIEL LEVY: What we weren’t sure is whether they’d get the optics right. Here, I think Secretary Rice has something of a feather in her cap. She got all the attendees there. She got a joint statement. We had uplifting speeches. And we got a presidential commitment. That means at least that they’ve got more invested in this than they have for the last seven years. So at least when there’s an investment, you’ve got a bit more to lose.

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: Now I hear him.

DANIEL LEVY: Having said that, everything now is about what happens next on the ground. Are there serious negotiations, or do the negotiations get stalled? And the daily situation that you had a little report about there, does that daily situation improve for the people, or is it just as dreadful? And if it’s the negative side of that ledger -- and unfortunately that’s probably where the bookmakers would be -- then no one comes out of yesterday smelling of roses, and we’re all back where we started.

So I think it’s good that the Americans are engaged again, but the kind of engagement matters, and I’m not sure we’re going to see a change. I was very worried by the old divisive global war on terror -- dividing the world into good and bad -- narrative that the President used yesterday.

AMY GOODMAN: Mustafa Barghouti, your response to the summit at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis?

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: Well, the only official thing that came out of this is the statement, the joint statement, and in that statement, the Palestinian delegation failed to present any of the Palestinian demands. Basically, the Palestinian delegation, being very weak and with great doubts about how representative it is, made one concession after the other. And everything they promised the Palestinian people, they failed to achieve. They didn’t mention the issue of Jerusalem; the issue of borders; the freeze of settlements, which we’ve been asking for. And basically the whole document and the whole outcome of the meeting has practically met every Israeli need or demand. What Livni promised has happened, which is that security comes before negotiations, and it becomes a condition of negotiations. What is most drastic is that after all this big gathering and all these expenses on such a conference, or a meeting, all we get is the same road map that was there back in 2003 and that was never implemented.

And in my opinion, what happened was very risky, because instead of discussing the real issues, the Israeli side managed to mobilize the American side; to marginalize completely the Quartet, which has no role from now on; to completely ignore and omit any mentioning of the basis and reference of negotiations, like UN resolutions, United Nations decisions --

AMY GOODMAN: The Quartet being -- Mustafa Barghouti, the --

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: everything that used to be mentioned, like international law, international humanitarian law. Everything was dismissed. The only reference that remains is what Israelis accept and what they don’t accept. And the whole issue becomes an issue of how the Palestinian Authority will be transformed to become a security subagent for occupation. And that is a condition. If the Palestinian Authority does not fulfill that, which is objectively impossible, then there will be no progress on any field. In my opinion, that is very dangerous. And it is really quite dangerous that the Israelis managed to get everything they want without any balance.

AMY GOODMAN: The fact, Mustafa Barghouti, that Saudi Arabia appeared in this kind of summit with Israel for the first time, a public meeting?

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: This is not the first time, by the way. This is again exaggerated. Saudi Arabia attended the first international conference in Madrid Conference -- in Madrid, sorry.

AMY GOODMAN: In 1991.

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: In 1991. And they were present there. And Saudi Arabia was instrumental in presenting the Arab initiative, which drew a very detailed plan of how peace could be achieved, mainly specifying that Israel must end the occupation of Palestinian territories and Arab territories, and in exchange Israel would get complete and full recognition and total peace with all Arab countries. Unfortunately, even the Arab initiative not mentioned. And the Saudis said they came with great hesitation. I am sure they came because they didn’t want to upset the United States. But I think all the Arab countries will probably walk out of this conference feeling very bad about how they were treated, about ignoring the Arab initiative. And I know that the Israelis consider this as a big achievement, because they think this gives them a green line now for -- a green light now for normalization with Arab countries without solving the Palestinian issue.

But in my opinion, you know, Palestinians have made a big compromise. The Arabs have supported that compromise, which is two-state solution. The Palestinians have accepted to have a state in less than half of what was assigned to them back in the United Nations resolutions in ’47. And now what are they getting? The Road Map. You know, there comes a point where you cannot further compromise the compromise. And what happened in Annapolis was basically, in my opinion, a big blow to the possibility of peace based on two-state solution. And this might be the last opportunity.

AMY GOODMAN: Daniel Levy, your response?

DANIEL LEVY: I’m afraid I only caught the very end of Mustafa’s comments.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, one of the key issues that he’s talked about is that basically Israel got its way at this conference, and he also felt that the Palestinian negotiating team was very weak.

DANIEL LEVY: First, I think the Palestinian negotiating team were starting from a weak hand. First of all, there's the structural reality of the conflict, which Mustafa, of course, is more aware of than myself, which is the imbalance between occupier and occupied. When the outside power that convenes the conference is also historically closer to the occupier, then, of course, you really have an entire process that’s out of sync.

I think Mustafa, in that respect, referred to the Quartet. You see, the Quartet was an opportunity to redress that balance, in a way, and to have the international community, alongside the Americans, giving this not only more international legitimacy, but a different framing. And I think yesterday, reading between the lines, was almost the death of the Quartet, because all the follow-up and all the monitoring will be exclusively American-led.

AMY GOODMAN: And just to clarify, the Quartet being European Union, the United Nations, Russia and the United States.

DANIEL LEVY: Absolutely. I can maybe set Mustafa a little bit at ease in terms of where the Israeli papers have come out this morning. The Israeli papers are not celebrating this as a great victory for Prime Minister Olmert, and they’re focusing more on the -- this was not normalization. And I think in that respect, Mustafa is right. There was an element of prematurity about bringing all the world together for something that was the beginning of the beginning of new negotiations.

The possible positive is that there’s a momentum out of these talks. But the negative, as Mustafa says -- and I agree with him -- is that you can’t do a conference like this every week, OK? So if you bring together this kind of a conference and something serious does not come out of it, then we’re in an even worse place, not only because hopes have been raised and expectations dashed, but because also here, I mean, you, the people listening to this, think, “Oh, you know, these guys have been killing each other for thousands of years. They’ll carry on. And why should we bother being involved?” And everyone loses faith and loses belief. And that’s a net negative.

I would argue that that means we have to do everything, despite all the odds being, you know, not great. We have to do everything to try and turn this into a process that works. I agree that that’s very difficult and that the leadership role played by the United States would have to be radically different to what it has been in the last seven years.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the other issues Mustafa Barghouti raised was the sidelining of the Arab League deal. Why is it taking so long for that to be acted on for a Palestinian state, Daniel?

DANIEL LEVY: Absolutely. And I think -- let me speak as an Israeli and a former Israeli official here. I think we’ve gotten to “yes.” The Arab initiative is Israel getting the recognition it yearned for ever since its establishment and its creation. Mustafa’s right: in 1991, at the Madrid Conference, everyone was there. People forget that in 1996 there was a summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, where the Arabs States attended, together with Israel and President Clinton. So we’ve been building and building, and in 2002, there it is: a formal Arab League initiative offering full normal relations for a comprehensive -- comprehensive -- land for peace. That should have been the “yes” moment for Israel.

Somehow, we’ve plodded through the last five years, partly because Ariel Sharon was prime minister, and I don’t think he had any intentions to make peace, partly because President Bush was the president of the United States, and he made no effort whatsoever to turn this Arab initiative into a workable peace process. The challenge for Israel -- and by the way, I think for all his detractors and for all the reality on the ground, which I think Olmert has not done anything significant to improve, I do think the Israeli prime minister spoke in very empathetic and sincere terms yesterday, and I give him some credit for that. But the real challenge is, can Israel embrace this offer and say yes to the '67 lines, say yes to, in fact, 78% of mandatory Palestine?

AMY GOODMAN: What is Israel's interest in rejecting the deal?

DANIEL LEVY: You know, Amy, I wish I could tell you and give you a good answer. My best answer at that is, there are groups inside Israel who are not inconsequential, who are Greater Land of Israel territorialists, who believe that this is God-given land. You have your own religious fundamentalists here in this country. That’s one section, and they're quite effective politically, and prime ministers tend to be worried when they go against them.

You also have security hawks, who will always find the security reason why, even if we can make a compromise one day, we can’t do it tomorrow, and we need to be here for our security. In 2007, to tell me I need a hill on the West Bank for my security, I think, is ridiculous.

But there’s a third reason, which is that Israel, rather than turning to its friend America and that friend saying, “Hey, guys, this is in your interest, it’s in our interest, let’s do this,” America is normally saying, “If you want to carry on your crazy self-destructive policy of occupation, don’t expect us to change it for you. In fact, we’ll continue to back you.” It’s like a drunkard turning to his friend and the friend giving him another bottle of vodka and then giving him the car keys.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to go to break and come back to this discussion. We’ll get Mustafa Barghouti’s response. We’re speaking with Daniel Levy, who’s a former Israel peace negotiator and has served as adviser to the governments of Ehud Barak and Yitzhak Rabin. We’ve also been speaking with Mustafa Barghouti, independent Palestinian lawmaker and democracy activist. We’ll be back with both of them in a minute.

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