The recent Annapolis proceedings have taken the Middle East peace process out of its prolonged state of morbidity in three respects. First, they call for negotiations over “all core issues without exception.” Before Annapolis, Israel refused to consider negotiations on a final-status accord before Palestinians implemented their obligation, under the 2003 road map agreement, to disarm Palestinian militants. That demand constituted the mother of all oxymorons, since no Palestinian leader could end violent resistance to the occupation in the face of Israel’s refusal to reveal how much Palestinian territory it intended to retain. The Palestinians have lost to Israel fully half the territory recognized by the 1947 United Nations partition resolution as their legitimate patrimony. They are not about to renounce the right to fight, if necessary, to retain the remaining 22 percent of Palestine.
Second, by relinquishing Israel’s demand that Palestinian implementation of the road map’s obligations precede negotiations, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert gained the right to demand that actual implementation of an agreement can come only after Palestinians have met those obligations, a demand that President Mahmoud Abbas accepted. This too was an important advance–provided an impartial third party monitors and judges compliance by both sides.
Third, the parties accepted the US decision to serve as that monitor, a role that until now Israel had arrogated to itself. A major obstacle to implementation of all previous agreements was the absence of a third-party monitor. Whether the United States can be an impartial arbiter remains to be proven. As indicated below, things have gotten off to a very unpromising start.
These accomplishments are potentially important breakthroughs, even if they remain highly problematic. By themselves, however, they cannot overcome the failure of Annapolis to deal with a number of major remaining obstacles to an eventual peace accord.
In an effort to reassure the Israelis, the Bush Administration repeatedly declared that the US role will be limited to “facilitation.” Given the discrepancies in power, wealth and influence that mark the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, a final-status agreement is inconceivable if the United States refuses to redress the imbalances between the two through its active intervention. The notion that “facilitation” alone will enable the parties to bridge their vast asymmetries is patently absurd.
That no agreement is conceivable between such radically uneven adversaries without US intervention is underlined by Bush’s insistence–echoing Olmert’s–that the success of the Annapolis peace process depends on Palestinian willingness to match Israeli “concessions.” This demand is stunningly insensitive to the fact that Palestinians are a people under occupation. As such, they have little to offer Israel by way of concessions, other than their continued subjugation and dispossession.
Of course, Palestinians are obliged to do everything they can to bring violence under control. That is why, even after an agreement is reached, its implementation would have to be delayed until Palestinian authorities have established the rule of law in their area. As for Israel, what is expected of it are not concessions but that it meet longstanding obligations imposed by UN resolutions, international law and previous agreements with the Palestinians. To call these Israeli obligations concessions is to undermine the negotiations before they begin, for they imply that Israel and the United States can demand that Palestinians forgo their rights under existing agreements and international law if they are to deserve an end to Israel’s occupation.
The position of Olmert’s government has been–and continues to be even after Annapolis–that Israel will not return to the pre-1967 border, that Israel will remain the sole sovereign in Jerusalem and that not a single refugee will be let back into Israel. Allowing that Palestinians will have to show flexibility in the implementation of their rights, particularly with regard to the demand for a significant return of refugees to Israel, it remains the case that these are indeed Palestinian rights, as defined by UN resolutions, the road map and international law. Israel is being asked to cease its violations of these rights, with its confiscations of Palestinian territory for settlements and outposts and housing projects that are intended to deny Palestinians a presence in any part of Jerusalem. For the United States to characterize Israeli demands for Palestinian giveaways as reciprocity for Israeli concessions is to add insult to injury–particularly since one would be hard put to identify a single concession Israel has made to the Palestinians.