is here. Rice is trying to shape it by insisting that her Annapolis
process has brought the Israelis and Palestinians closer to peace
“than they have been, maybe ever, and certainly in some time.”
Really? Then why, at their
joint press conference last week, did Palestinian Authority president
Mahmoud Abbas cite a virtually unchanged list of problems? Israeli
settlement activity, roadblocks, incursions, Palestinian prisoners,
shuttered Jerusalem institutions, and a “dangerous escalation” of settler attacks
against farmers “sometimes in the presence of the Israeli army.”
To say nothing
of the siege on Gaza and the destruction of its civilization,
as former Human Rights Commissioner and Irish president Mary Robinson
recently put it. Annapolis has brought Palestinians no closer
to freedom and human dignity. Yet Rice, in her audacity, pretends
her efforts are historic.
Her Quartet partners in pretense
- the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations
- were recently excoriated by 21 international aid agencies for
the deteriorating conditions in key areas the Quartet itself had
set as benchmarks. Yet
the Quartet met again this weekend, issued another pompous declaration,
and proposed another meeting. Meanwhile, the suffering continues.
What can the new Administration
learn from unmitigated failure?
Lesson One: You can’t reasonably
expect a people under military occupation to guarantee the security
of the occupying forces. Yet since the peace process began in
has insisted, and the world has gone along, that the Palestinian
Authority must “crack down on terrorism” while Israel
is free to colonize and undertake “incursions.”
For instance: The week before
Rice’s visit, the Israeli Defence Forces carried out 109 searches
in the West Bank - the UN says the IDF averages 105 a week. The
incursions actually increased in the Jenin governorate. Rice touts
Jenin as an American success story in economic and security terms.
Also last week: A 67-year-old
man was killed in the West Bank, and six Palestinians were killed
in an IDF incursion in central Gaza that sparked fierce retaliation. The ceasefire
Hamas negotiated in June through Egypt’s good offices is still
holding - but it is fraying.
To avoid Rice’s fate, the
Administration must insist on a carefully monitored comprehensive
ceasefire that binds Israel as well as Palestinians. This is a prerequisite
Lesson Two: The Bush Administration
wasted time and lives by exporting its ideological pursuit of
radical Islamists to Palestine. Both Vanity Fair and former UN Special Coordinator for the
ME peace process Alvaro de Soto have documented the Bush Administration’s determined efforts
to crush Hamas and prevent a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation.
Hamas has clearly said it
wants a two-state solution. Israel
has effectively negotiated with Hamas; the United States too can do so.
No meaningful agreement will be reached without a unified Palestinian
Lesson Three: it is impossible
for bilateral negotiations to succeed with a huge power differential
between the two parties. Israelis and Palestinians have been sitting
around the table, on and off, for 15 years now and Israel
has yet to withdraw from the occupied Palestinian territories
nor paid a price for its 41-year occupation.
Ironically, it is the settler
movement that is now making the occupation costly to Israel
by attacking Israeli soldiers and even pipe-bombing an Israeli
Jewish peace advocate. This
has forced outgoing premier Ehud Olmert to plan a halt to government
financing of “unauthorized settlements” - the first meaningful
step towards an Israeli pullback in a very long time. (All the
settlements are illegal, Mr. Olmert, even your authorized ones.)
The new Administration should
take a leaf from Olmert’s book and investigate just how much US aid - public as well as private - supports Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise so as to
States won’t be alone. Finally, Britain is cracking down on settlement exports,
which violate Israel’s
agreement with the European Union. France,
speaking as head of the EU, has demanded Israel tackle settler violence against Palestinians.
These moves will also make Israel think twice about the cost of its occupation.
There are many calls to preserve
the bankrupt Annapolis process. The new Administration should
ignore them. Instead, it should support a comprehensive ceasefire,
look favorably on Palestinian efforts to unify, and, like Europe,
begin adding costs to Israel’s occupation.
As for Rice and her farcical
Quartet, history will show they will none of them be missed.
Guest Commentator. Nadia Hijab, is a Senior Fellow at the Institute
for Palestine Studies.
This commentary was syndicated by Agence Global and distributed by the Institute for Palestine Studies. The Institute has produced
authoritative studies on Palestinian affairs and the Arab-Israeli
conflict since 1963. Its flagship Journal of Palestine
Studies is published by the University
of California Press. Click here
to contact Nadia Hijab.