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Annapolis, "Potemkin Village" of Peace--Le Monde Diplomatique 11/25/07

Annapolis, "Potemkin Village" of Peace*
   By Alain Gresh
   Le Monde Diplomatique

   Sunday 25 November 2007

   "The meeting that will bring Israelis and Palestinians together in
the United States at Annapolis (Maryland), Tuesday, November 27, will
undoubtedly be a success. Just as were the Sharm el-Sheikh summits in
2007 and in 2005. Just like the one in Aqaba, June 3, 2003 ... Since the
last real negotiations of January 2001, in Taba, this type of encounter
has been mechanically repeated with no after-effect ever following. The
parameters of a negotiated peace have long been identified: The borders
of Palestine will have to be as faithful as possible to the Green Line,
the cease-fire line in effect between 1948 and 1967; possible Israeli
annexations will be compensated for through land exchanges; Jerusalem
will have to be shared; the overwhelming majority of Palestinians who
want to return will come back to Palestine and not Israel. But is it
still possible to achieve that result?" That's what Gilles Paris wrote
in the November 25-26 Le Monde under the title "Annapolis Summit:
Leaving Distrust Behind
<http://www.lemonde.fr/web/article/0,1-0@2-3232,36-982094,0.html>."

  
No one, in fact, believes that - beyond the smiles and photos for
the gallery and even if, as it is said, President Bush gives an
"important speech" - Annapolis will lead to anything other than a new -
never-ending - peace process. American Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice likes to say that it's necessary to offer the Palestinians a
"political horizon," but, by definition, the horizon is something that
one never reaches.

   When the initiative to convoke this meeting was launched by the Bush
administration, it was all about ratifying a common Israeli-Palestinian
declaration that was supposed to lead to a final agreement. In an
article published November 22 in Haaretz ("Palestinian Source: Wide Gaps
Remains As Summit Nears
<http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/926774.html>"), Amira Hass explains
the differences between the two parties. Moreover, the same paper
publishes a confidential draft
<http://www.haaretz.com/hasite/images/iht_daily/D211107/an_doc.pdf>
proposal that the two parties have discussed: They couldn't even agree
on whether it was a "document," or a "statement."

   It was in January 1787, that Tsarina Catherine II's war minister
invited her to visit the provinces Russia had newly conquered. And it
was Potemkin's biographer who launched the legend that, "The minister
implanted fake cardboard villages all along the Tsarina's itinerary
through the new provinces.
<http://www.herodote.net/histoire/evenement.php?jour=17620709> He wanted
to please her this way and reassure her about the state of the
peasantry!" Since then, the expression has been used to denounce a
government's attempts to fool domestic or international public opinion.

   Just such an enterprise is being prepared for Tuesday, November 27,
in Annapolis in the United States under the aegis of the American
president and after several weeks of media hoopla.

   I have to say a word about the "concessions" the Israeli government
agreed to in preparation for this meeting. Four hundred and fifty
Palestinian detainees were supposed to be liberated - but they number
over 10,000 in total - and Israeli authorities arrested 600 Palestinians
in the month of October alone! The Israeli government announced that it
would dismantle all "illegal" settlements (let us remember that, under
international law, all the settlements are "illegal," but Israel only
designates those that have not had official approval from the
authorities that way) - but that promise has already been made a
thousand times and has never been kept. Let us remember that even the
dismantling of certain West Bank checkpoints that make every Palestinian
move a nightmare and which has also, moreover, been promised a thousand
times, has never been effected. A United Nations report revealed that
the number of roadblocks had reached 572
<http://blog.mondediplo.net/2007-09-23-Lettre-a-Oussama-Ben-Laden>, a
52% increase over the 376 roadblocks that existed in August 2005.
Finally, a truly concrete measure: Israel will reduce its supply of
electricity to Gaza starting on December 2, which amounts to a
collective punishment, considered by international law as a "war crime."

   So much for the Israeli concessions on the ground. As for the nub of
the debate, who can believe for a moment that Israel will return to the
1967 borders, when even President Bush rejects that total withdrawal? In
"Israel-Palestine, truths about a conflict" (Fayard, 2007), I noted: "In
an April 14, 2004 letter addressed to Ariel Sharon
<http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/04/20040414-3.html>,
President Bush wrote: 'Mr. Prime Minister, you have described a bold and
historic initiative that can make an important contribution to peace. I
commend your efforts and your courageous decision which I support. As a
close friend and ally, the United States intends to work closely with
you to help make it a success.' And he adds: 'As part of a final peace
settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should
emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC
Resolutions 242 and 338. In light of new realities on the ground,
including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is
unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will
be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all
previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same
conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement
will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that
reflect these realities.' Therefore, there will be no return to the 1967
borders and the American Administration supports Israeli unilateralism -
unilateralism that undermines the final gain of the Oslo Accords, the
idea that the solution must be negotiated between the two parties."

   An incontestable success for American diplomacy resides in the Arab
countries' participation in the Annapolis meeting (with the exception of
still-hesitating Syria): Egypt and Jordan, with enthusiasm, Saudi Arabia
with much more reticence. There had to have been pressure from
Washington, since not a single one of the conditions imposed by the Arab
League for participation had been fulfilled: the freeze on all forms of
settlement, the discussion of all unresolved issues (including the
refugees and Jerusalem), a specific and binding schedule ... and, above
all, acceptance of the Arab Peace Plan which proposed recognition of
Israel in exchange for complete withdrawal from the territories occupied
in 1967, the creation of a Palestinian State and of a just and mutually
agreed solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees.

   In this way, the United States can hope to achieve its essential
objective - which has nothing to do with the Palestinians - to produce a
broad front of so-called moderate Arab states, Israel, itself, and some
Europeans (with a special role for France) against the "Iranian threat."

   As Abdel Bari Atwan writes in the November 24th edition of the
pan-Arab London paper, Al-Quds Al-Arabi <http://www.alquds.co.uk/>,
which denounces the position of the Arab League and Saudi Arabia in
particular for participating in the conference: "Moderate Arab
countries, could, in this manner, be involved in an intensive military,
economic, and political coordination with Israel and the United States
and form a unified front to confront the Iranian danger which some Arabs
consider more perilous than the Israeli danger."

   That, moreover, is the viewpoint of the Israeli press. In its
editorial, "Don't Knock Annapolis
<http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/927237.html>" of November 23,
Haaretz writes:

   "Of course, at Annapolis the Iranian issue will loom between the
lines. Israel, and to a great extent its Arab neighbors too, come to the
conference importuning the United States and its allies to save them -
also the rest of the world, but first and foremost the explicitly
threatened Jewish state and the Sunni Arab states - from the menace of
the regional, fundamentalist thug and his nuclear program.

   Behind closed doors, President George Bush has hinted that
Israeli-Palestinian progress will make it easier for him to rally a
determined international front against Tehran."

   A point of view shared by Shimon Shiffer the same day in Yedioth
Ahronoth:

   "The most important meeting next week, it seems, will not take place
in Maryland, but in Washington. Wednesday (the 28th) after the pageant
photos that will be taken in Annapolis, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud
Olmert will meet President Bush to discuss 'non-Palestinian issues,' a
transparent code to designate the most important problem on the program,
Iran.

   In the discussions within Israel about Iranian questions, Olmert's
position is that of a perfect hawk. He believes the Iranian nuclear
threat can be settled militarily and that Israel can pay the price of
such an operation. The most ardent supporter of Olmert's proactive
policy is Benyamin Netanyahu. The big question is: what will Bush do? He
has only 14 months left. It's either too long or not long enough -
depending on what the American president has decided to do for the last
year of his term. Public opinion is divided. Netanyahu, who has his eyes
fixed on American polls, says that in the past, 70% of Americans were
opposed to an attack against Iran and that that percentage has now
fallen to 50%."

   Condoleezza Rice, in Nashville before the general assembly of the
United Jewish Communities on November 13, also explained the
relationship between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iran and
declared <http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2007/11/95103.htm>, "So,
ladies and gentlemen, what is at stake is nothing less than the future
of the Middle East. Violent extremists with the Government of Iran
increasingly in the lead are doing everything in their power to impose
their fear, their resentments, and their hate-filled ideologies on the
people of the Middle East. And few people are being more zealously
preyed upon by these extremists than the young. This makes the two-state
solution more urgent than ever ... if Palestinian reformists cannot
deliver on their people's hope of an independent state, then the
moderate center could collapse and the next generation of Palestinians
could become lost souls of unbridled extremism ... It is a time for
responsible leaders, Israelis and Palestinians, Americans and Arabs to
make the difficult decisions that peace requires, to make them
courageously and to make them confidently."

   One obviously cannot exclude the possibility - given the vigor with
which the media have asserted that nothing will happen in Annapolis -
that some meager result will be presented as "a decisive advance"
towards peace. That will obviously be a lie, but one that would create
several months room for maneuver for the United States. But, in reality,
the sole question posed on this eve of the November 27 meeting is this:
Does the Potemkin Village of Annapolis hide preparations for a war
against Iran?

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