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Dictating the terms of surrender

November 30, 2007 | Page 2

THE ANNAPOLIS conference on Middle East peace, engineered by the Bush administration, may yet claim the remarkable distinction of having the largest-ever gap between rhetoric and reality of any of the so-called "peace summits."

The gaping hypocrisy of the event--barely noted, if at all, in the U.S. media--is that Israel and the Palestinians are supposed to negotiate their differences without the democratically elected government of the Palestinians, led by the Islamist Hamas party, being present, or even invited to the conference.

The timing of the conference is, of course, entirely self-serving for the White House. George Bush hopes to conjure some good will toward the U.S. among Arab governments at a time when the U.S. military is mired in Iraq and U.S. officials are preparing for a potential future conflict with Iran.

In other words, the current talks are aimed at achieving through negotiations what the U.S. has been unable to impose through brute military force.

In time-honored fashion, Israeli officials celebrated the conference as "an American success" for the mere presence of Saudi Arabian and Syrian diplomats in Annapolis--secure in the knowledge that steps had been taken weeks ago to stop the talks from accomplishing anything.

In early October, Israel demanded huge concessions from the Palestinian side as a precondition for the Annapolis talks getting underway. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert insisted that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recognize in principle that Israel is "a state for the Jews."

Olmert didn't carry through on this ultimatum, but it gave a sense of what the Israeli government expects of the negotiations.

Palestinians recognized Israel's right to exist at the beginning of the 1993 Oslo "peace process." Now they are also supposed to accept that Israel is a state for Jewish people--and by implication, renounce the right of Palestinian refugees to return to the land and homes they were driven from during the founding of the state of Israel in 1948.

Olmert's demand leaves open another possibility. If Israel is recognized as "a state for the Jews," that would make Palestine "a state for the Palestinians"--and raise the prospect that the 1.5 million Palestinians living inside Israel could be expelled if a Palestinian state is ever established, an implication intended to appeal to the proto-fascist Israel Beiteinu Party of Avigdor Lieberman, who currently serves as the deputy prime minister.

As Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery explained, "If Mahmoud Abbas and his colleagues were to accede to this demand, they would be sticking a knife in the backs of their own relatives. Olmert and Co. know this, of course. They are not posing this demand in order to get it accepted. They pose it in order that it not be accepted. By this ploy, they hope to avoid any obligation to start meaningful negotiations."

The familiar pattern summoned this comment from Palestinian rights activist and author Ali Abunimah: "The 'Middle East Peace Process' is like one of those big budget Broadway extravaganzas; they go on for years, but with each revival, the cast changes...

"Unlike a few hours of theatrical escapism, however, the producers of the Middle East Peace Process hope that the audience will actually believe that what they are viewing on stage, whether performed in Madrid, Oslo, London, Washington or Sharm al-Sheikh, is real-life, and even has the potential to end the conflict caused by a century of Western-supported Zionist colonization in Palestine."

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VERY FEW Palestinians expect anything good to come of the Annapolis conference. "It is our belief that the purpose of the Annapolis round of negotiations is to extract further critical concessions from the Palestinians, while further delaying final status agreements," says a statement by 18 Palestinian community organizations in Canada.

"In particular, we believe that Israel will attempt to redefine the conflict with the Palestinians as being only about ending the occupation of Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, or parts thereof. Such a redefinition leads the Palestinians into the trap of the 'two-state' formula, which subverts our legitimate rights under international law."

"We stress that the central issue in the Palestinian conflict with Israel has always been the dispossession of the Palestinian people from their land and property caused by the Zionist ethnic cleansing of 1948, and the Israeli denial to Palestinians of the basic human right to return and to live in peace and security as equal citizens on their land."

Very few Palestinians, that is--except for Mahmoud Abbas.

"President Bush's initiative is a great initiative," Abbas during his meeting with Bush on the eve of the summit getting underway. "We will continue to rely on his support and the support of the United States and his administration in order to achieve the intended objective."

The U.S. has stood by Israel--to the tune of billions of dollars a year in aid--while Israel flouted its promise to stop construction of illegal settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. While it launched vicious assaults on Palestinian refugee camps. While it imposed a suffocating siege on Gaza, which amounts to collective punishment, illegal under international law.

No one should consider the U.S. an "honest broker" of Middle East peace.

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