In Annapolis yesterday, President Bush read a joint statement on behalf of Olmert and Abbas. This was a last minute statement that was made possible because it simply didn’t mention the core issues that had caused so much dissention between the parties.
It says that the parties "agree to engage in vigorous, ongoing and continuous negotiations, and shall make every effort to conclude an agreement before the end of 2008."
The deadline of the end of 2008 — theoretically designed to bring culmination before Bush’s term ends — is not binding, but a goal to aim towards, although undoubtedly there would be pressure applied.
Olmert and Abbas will first meet on December 12, and every two weeks thereafter; a steering committee will work "continuously" to develop a work plan. The goal is "two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security." To that end, there will be a peace treaty that "will resolve all outstanding issues, including core issues without exception."
The parties will immediately begin to implement their respective obligations under the road map and will continue to do so until the treaty is achieved. An American, Palestinian and Israeli mechanism will be set up to monitor implementation, and the United States will serve as the judge of whether commitments under the road map have been fulfilled.
How bad is this?
I understand that Abbas (as his predecessor Arafat did during Oslo) balked at the last moment and had to be coerced by Rice — the queen of the coercers — into agreeing to this joint statement. Ali Waked, reporting from Ramallah for YNet says that the Palestinians think that Israel came out ahead. They are disgruntled because there is no mention in this agreement of Israeli withdrawal to pre-’67 lines, or to eastern Jerusalem as the future capital of a Palestinian state, or to the "return" of refugees to Israel.
But the reverse is also true . There is no written acknowledgement of Israel as a Jewish state (thus the door is potentially open for refugee "return"). There is no assurance of Israel’s right to retain major settlement blocs. There is no reference to Jerusalem as the eternal undivided capital of Israel.
It’s all wide open.
It is of particular and serious concern is that the US will decide when the Palestinians have met their road map obligations regarding the elimination of terrorist infrastructure. Actually, this is terrifying. Because the PA security apparatus is NOT going to eliminate terrorist infrastructure. They have never ever made a serious effort in this regard, and with Hamas breathing down their necks and Abbas weaker than ever, they are certainly not going to do so now.
But every so often they make a show of it. They arrested some Hamas people in Judea and Samaria –and never prosecuted any and have since let most go.
So what happens if the US — as arbiter of fulfillment of commitments under the road map — decides that the show is sufficient and permits itself to be taken in by the surface appearance? What if the US — so eager to show results before Bush retires — cuts the PA slack for the millionth time? What if our security people know it’s not safe to move on to the next stage (which would involve our withdrawal), even though the US says it is?
Under this formula we have relinquished our right to protect ourselves.
There is unease with regard to proceeding according to the road map for yet another reason. There has been a great deal of talk about jumping to stage 3 — formation of a permanent Palestinian state, even while stage 1 — which requires the elimination of terrorism — is not complete. There’s been some convoluted notion that the state that would be negotiated would serve as incentive and would not be actualized until stage 1 was fulfilled. I have addressed the dangers implicit in this before.
What I see here is that the stages of the road map are not addressed and it is not all together clear that the described process will require completion of stage 1, and then stage 2, before stage 3 is even reached.
What particularly irritated me was the statement in the declaration that reeked of moral equivalency: "we express our determination…to confront terrorism and incitement, whether committed by Palestinians or Israelis."
Excuse me! Our defensive measures — including selective killing of terrorists — are NOT terrorism. We are defending against terrorism. And incitement? The incitement of the PA is outrageous and nothing of this sort exists within Israeli society. Take a look at Palestinian Media Watch which documents that just today PA TV ran a map that erases Israel. http://pmw.org.il/bulletins_nov2007.htm#b281107
Such studied even-handedness on the part of Bush does not augur well for the US role in this matter.
Actually, I look at this whole preliminary agreement and I want to say to Bush, "You’ve got to be kidding! This is a joke, right?" Although a joke that is no longer funny because it now has potential consequences. The PA simply is not in a place to see through its commitments and it’s lunacy to pretend that it can. There is no way in the world that Abbas could possibly get his act together (even assuming he wants to) in just over a year. He doesn’t even control all of Judea and Samaria, and from what I’m reading there has been anti-Annapolis unrest there that has made his standing even weaker. People are unhappy because he wasn’t victorious — with promises on all those core issues and the US squeezing Israel hard. Abbas has won nothing with his participation in this show.
As to incitement — it would take years to redo those textbooks that have no maps of Israel and praise jihad.
Bush in his statement at Annapolis, in which he introduced the joint declaration, spoke of an "historic opportunity to encourage the expansion of freedom and peace in the holy land.
"We meet to lay the foundation for the establishment of a new nation, a democratic Palestinian state that will live side by side with Israel in peace and security."
If he really believes this he is so far out of touch with reality as to require professional help. The fact that the PA had elections does not make it a "democratic" entity; it is very very far removed from the liberal principles such as protection of human rights, freedom of speech, freedom of press and equal rights under the law that are concomitant with true democracies. The PA is a corrupt, terror-ridden, violence-worshiping, grossly ineffectual entity that sure is not about to metamorphise into something else in 13 months.
And, let us not forget, there is still the issue of Gaza , which everyone has agreed must be an integral part of a Palestinian state. How is Abbas to accomplish this? What makes anyone think it’s possible? (An interesting note: Abbas is referred to as head of the PLO, which nominally gives him authority to negotiate for all Palestinians. But there is no reference to Gaza at all, which is a serious omission.)
I read one commentary that suggested that the way to deal with Gaza is by having the IDF go in and weaken Hamas for Abbas. But Khaled Abu Toameh vociferously disagrees. He describes the thousands who marched in Gaza City on Tuesday, chanting "We will never recognize Israel.
Said Abu Toameh, "The Annapolis conference may have improved relations between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, but it has also deepened divisions among the Palestinians. The negotiations that are expected to take place after the Annapolis meeting will only aggravate the crisis on the Palestinian arena, making it harder for Abbas to even consider the possibility of returning to the Gaza Strip."
As to Abbas relying on the IDF in Gaza, Abu Toameh explains:
"The last thing Abbas would want is to return to the Gaza Strip with the help of the IDF. Such a move would only damage his credibility and turn many Arabs and Muslims against him. ‘Abbas would be a fool to return to the Gaza Strip aboard an Israeli tank,’ remarked a Hamas official in the West Bank. ‘Any Palestinian who enters the Gaza Strip with Israel’s assistance will be treated as an enemy.’
"History has shown that Palestinians who were empowered by Israel did not last for long in power. The best example is the Village Leagues, a group that was established in the West Bank after Israel dismissed most of the elected pro-PLO mayors in the early 1980s.
"The heads and members of the Village Leagues were quickly condemned as traitors by their own people and some of them were assassinated."
With all the hoopla, then , Bush has simply made it harder for the "moderate" Abbas and diminished the possibility of resolving the Gaza issue.
Yet another factor that is deeply disturbing is the difference in the stances of Abbas and Olmert.
Abbas made a statement saying that they "must" have east Jerusalem as their capital. Actually, he said, there must be an end to "occupation of all Palestinian lands since 1967, including East Jerusalem, as well as the Syrian Golan and occupied Lebanese territory.
"We need East Jerusalem to be our capital, and to establish open relations with West Jerusalem,"
As I’ve noted repeatedly, there are no concessions on the PA side.
But Olmert? He’s standing on his head to show how much he’s willing to sacrifice, and Livni is just one step behind him. Said he, "We are ready for painful concessions…I have no doubt that the reality that was formed in our region in 1967 will change in a most significant manner. I know this, and we are ready for it."
We? Speak for yourself, Ehud. He does not have a mandate to do this.
Besides which, it is the very worst of negotiating stances . I’ve read that some Palestinians, observing Olmert’s eagerness, have concluded that it’s best to stall on finalizing negotiations. If they want to bring matters to closure, they might be expected to compromise somehow, but if they act reluctant, Olmert will keep on offering more.
How much easier we could rest if we had someone strong for our side at the head of our state. He made no demands in his speech, other than the need for peace. No talk of Jewish Jerusalem or our sacred heritage.
(See Moshe Sharon on the matter of negotiations with the Arabs at http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1159193413129&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FPrinter)
I know that Olmert typically does not keep his word, but I am particularly incensed by his failure to do so with regard to the Palestinians recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.
He couldn’t have been clearer just a little over two weeks ago, when he said that unless the Palestinians recognize Israel as "a Jewish state" there would be no talks at Annapolis: "I do not intend to compromise in any way over the issue of the Jewish state. This will be a condition for our recognition of a Palestinian state."
Just one day later he referred to "recognition of Israel as a state for the Jewish people" as the "launching point for all negotiations. We won’t have an argument with anyone in the world over the fact that Israel is a state of the Jewish people."
And now, such recognition has not been forthcoming and he has proceeded anyway.
He must be called on this.
Obviously there will be a great deal more to say, but this suffices for today. As I often comment, this is a situation that has to be watched. Who knows? Olmert might actually be indicted for corruption, causing him to leave office. Abbas might be taken down in Judea and Samaria by Hamas. The PA might stonewall so totally, insisting they want it all, that negotiations muddle on with nothing happening. The US might get honest enough to admit it when the PA does not meet its obligation to dismantle terror infrastructure.
Maybe it will fizzle before too much damage is done…