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The Shaky Prospects
for Annapolis

Terrell E. Arnold

There is a community, small but growing, that rigorously supports the rights of the Palestinian people to fair and equal treatment in Palestine. Fairness and equity have been systematically denied to the Palestinian people for more than six decades. During that time, as we have seen graphically described in such recent works as former President Jimmy Carter's Peace not Apartheid, and Israeli historian Ilan Pappe's The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, their land has been forcibly taken from them, while the people have been squeezed into less than 10% of their historic homeland. And that squeeze is still on while the United States, as principal sponsor, pushes for peace talks in Annapolis sometime this month. Such settlement works have made it amply clear that the Palestinian people are the victims of the most vicious land grab in modern history. 
Both the Western and the Arab worlds carry part of the blame for this situation, because the West has routinely acquiesced in continuous Israel Defense Force takeovers of Palestinian homes and lands, while the Arab governments have not effectively challenged Israeli takeovers. The Israeli land grab has never been derailed or even stalled by the peace talks of the past that uniformly have gone nowhere. Those talks collectively have been so meaningless that they are only granted the diplomatic stature of a "process". In this context, the critical challenge for Annapolis planners is how to make the proposed talks meaningful.
"Meaningful" talks, however, represent widely different outcomes for the key parties. Given their druthers, the Palestinians would like all of Palestine returned to them, but the realists among them now seem prepared to accept a division at the 1967 truce line plus the Gaza Strip. That would concede most of Palestine to the Israelis; the 1967 truce line is generally regarded as providing the minimum real estate necessary for a viable Palestinian state. On the other hand, the Zionists who drive Israeli policy on this matter want all of Palestine to the Jordan River and more if they can get it. Their basic strategy to date has been to talk peace, stall on specifics and continue to encroach on the remainder of Palestine with new settlements, creating those famous "facts on the ground" that George W. Bush so glibly handed to Ariel Sharon. That land grab goes on today, even as the US prepares for peace talks in Annapolis.
One can ask whether in these circumstances there is any point to the Annapolis talks. While Mahmoud Abbas for the Palestinians and Ehud Olmert for the Israelis natter over the terms of an agenda, it becomes increasingly clear that, if such talks are held, they will occur without either an agreed agenda or a consensus on outcomes. In that event, the bigger question becomes who actually will attend. One of the clearest voices on what must happen is John Whitbeck, a former legal counsel to the Palestinians and presently an informal adviser. Below, with his permission, are views he has expressed on the situation facing Palestinian officials.
The West Bank Fatah leadership has not yet yielded in its publicly pronounced insistence that it will not go to Annapolis without both a detailed framework for a peace agreement and a firm deadline for reaching a definitive peace agreement. Maintaining this insistence is essential if any renewed "peace process" is not to be simply another multi-year, time-wasting farce.
Israel, which has, successfully and with the silent acquiescence and complicity of the West, vastly accelerated its colonization project under the protective cover of a series of multi-year, time-wasting farces and which desires nothing else but more of the same, has made clear that it is willing to consider only a vague declaration of principles (again?) and no deadline whatsoever for actually achieving anything.
Accordingly, the West Bank Fatah leadership is under heavy Israeli/American pressure to abandon its principled and practical position, trot along to Annapolis, smile, shake hands and collaborate in yet another multi-year phase of the perpetual "peace process".
The West Bank Fatah leadership would be very unwise to bow to this pressure, not simply in light of the interests of the people they profess to represent (rarely a major concern for politicians anywhere) but in light of their own self-interest, since doing so would simply confirm the metastasizing perception that the West Bank Fatah leadership is composed of, at best, shameless collaborators and, at worst, Israeli agents -- with all the consequences likely to flow from confirming that perception.
Nothing would do more to enhance the credibility of the West Bank Fatah leadership -- and the hopes of most Palestinians and their friends around the world for a restoration of Palestinian unity -- than a courageous and principled decision to stand firm, to stand tall and not to go to Annapolis.
If even the "moderate" Abu Mazen were to stand tall and dare to put Palestinian interests ahead of Israeli/American desires, Israel and the West would be shellshocked with astonishment and would have to seriously rethink their ability to continue to ride roughshod over the Palestinian people. Such a rethinking, long overdue, could only be constructive and beneficial. 
In light of those considerations, John Whitbeck has advised key Palestinian officials as follows: urgent
I am encouraged to read reports of your public insistence that, in order for Palestine to attend next month's proposed "peace" conference at all, a pre-conference agreement with Israel must include a clear timetable or deadline for achieving a definitive peace agreement.
As you have correctly emphasized, the principles (and most of the details) for a decent two-state solution are well-known to all -- and have been for many years. If there is a genuine will for peace on both sides, six months of serious negotiations sholuld be more than ample to achieve a definitive peace agreement.
I presume that your insistence on a clear timetable or deadline reflects an equally clear understanding, based on hard experience, that, without such a timetable or deadline, this "resumption" of the perpetual "peace process" would, inevitably, simply permit Israel to embark on yet another three-to-five-year cycle of delay, pretending to seek peace while building more settlements, walls and bypass roads, confiscating more Palestinian land and, generally, making the occupation even more permanent and irreversible.
I fully support your position that Palestine should not attend such a conference without a commitment to a clear timetable or deadline for achieving a definitive peace agreement. 
However, as you are well aware, other "processes" (including Oslo) had formal deadlines, regularly ignored by Israel -- with impunity. Israel has been able to do so because the only consequence of missing these deadlines has been the continuation of the status quo -- which has always been Israel's objective in any event.
For any deadline to be meaningful and constructive, there must be a clear, explicit and well-understood consequence of not meeting it. I believe that it is essential for the Palestinian leadership to make clear that, after 40 years of occupation and 20 years of Palestinian commitment to a "two-state solution", if this deadline is missed, the Palestinian people will then and thereafter have to pursue the alternative to a "two-state solution" -- a single democratic state in all of Israel/Palestine with equal rights for all who live there.
As has been noted in the context of imminent executions, this should concentrate Israeli minds wonderfully -- and stimulate any Israeli government to make the best "two-state" offer that the Israeli mind can imagine. If this "best offer" is good enough, the Palestinian people can accept it. If it is not, the Palestinian people and the rest of the world will know -- and can then move on to demanding justice and peace through democracy, a goal which has the considerable advantage of moral clarity, since it would not reward, legitimize and perpetuate ethnic cleansing, racism and apartheid.
Whitbeck sees the prospects all too clearly, but he sees the alternative, a single democratic Palestine, as the best long run choice for the Palestinians, the Israelis, and the rest of the world. He laid out this choice in an article he wrote in January of 2004.
By John V. Whitbeck
With Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon threatening to impose the permanent status solution of his choice unilaterally if the Palestinians do not bow to his wishes within the next few months, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei has now responded with a quiet threat of his own which is far more likely than either continued violence or continued immobility to produce the sensible two-state solution which clear majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians wish to achieve.
In an interview on January 8, Qurei noted that the wall being built through the West Bank, which Sharon has pledged to complete notwithstanding overwhelming international opposition, represents an "apartheid solution" which would "put Palestinians like chickens in cages" and "kill the two-state vision". His conclusion? "We will go for a one-state solution. There is no other solution." On January 11, he reaffirmed this view as he stood before the wall.
The timing could not be better. The non-governmental Geneva Accord signed on December 1 has revealed, in meticulous detail, what any negotiated two-state solution would have to look like. No negotiated agreement which could conceivably be acceptable both to most Israelis and to most Palestinians could be more than very marginally different from the Geneva Accord, which contains all the fundamental substantive compromises long recognized to be necessary in any negotiated two-state solution. If such a two-state solution is simply not good enough for either Israelis or Palestinians, then only two alternative solutions remain -- a one-state solution and a military solution.
In a one-state solution, the entire territory of the former Palestine Mandate would form a single democratic state, free of any form of discrimination based on race, religion or national origin and with equal rights for all who live there, as in any true democracy.
In a military solution, the most likely sequence of events, extending over a period of time which might last decades or be relatively brief, would be a completion of the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population of historic Palestine (an option which is widely supported in Israeli public opinion polls), followed by a nuclear attack on Israel by one or more Muslim states which eventually acquire such weapons and an immediate, massive Israeli nuclear response against the Muslim world. This nightmare scenario is not alarmist. It is realistic in the absence of peace.
All indications are that, in the absence of another major expulsion of Palestinians to relieve the "demographic threat", Israeli public opinion would reject with horror the prospect of a single democratic state "from the sea to the river" which would be free of any form of discrimination and with equal rights for all who live there, considering such a state, rightly, as a complete negation of Zionism and of Israel's reason to exist. Indeed, the immediate response from Sharon adviser Zalman Shoval was that Qurei "may just as well call for a Palestinian state on the moon". The whole world must reject with horror the military solution and, with this in mind, help Israelis and Palestinians to make a better choice.
In these circumstances, the Palestinian leadership has both a desperate need and a rare opportunity to seize the initiative and change the agenda in a constructive way. It should now follow up on Qurei's broad hints with a clear ultimatum that, if the Israeli government has not commenced government-to-government negotiations toward a two-state solution on the basis of the Geneva Accord by a fixed, near-term date, the Palestinian Authority will dissolve itself, returning to Israel full responsibility for administering and financing all aspects of life in the occupied territories, and the Palestinian leadership and people will thereafter seek, peacefully, "one man, one vote in a unitary state", to adopt the old slogan of the South African anti-apartheid movement.
Even the United States would have difficulty opposing a peaceful demand for "one man, one vote". The long-running game of stringing out forever a perpetual "peace process" while further entrenching the occupation with new "facts on the ground" would finally be over. Faced with such a challenge, the current Israeli government, already wobbly, would almost certainly collapse, opening the way to its replacement by a new government genuinely interested in peace. A decent peace for both Israelis and Palestinians would suddenly be possible, even close.
The road to peace based on a two-state solution is not a straight one. As the Palestinian leadership appears now to realize, the expressway to this destination is, in fact, a bypass road permitting Israelis to focus clearly on the one-state alternative and, now that the precise terms of any two-state solution have been revealed, to embrace those terms as, at least, the lesser evil and make the changes in their own leadership which would finally bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to an end.
There is no clearer rendering of the realities of the Palestinian situation. It may be that US officialdom, along with most of Western world officialdom, is so hamstrung by loyalty to the Israelis that it cannot respond to this reality. It may be that the American political agenda is so confused at this time that meaningless peace talks on Palestine are an unavoidable political priority for both Republican and Democratic leadership. It could also be that the Israelis would go along with more of the peace process because, controlling the propaganda ground in the West, they can probably make the Palestinians look bad, no matter how little actually transpires in these talks. Talks that appear to fail because the Palestinians can be made to look uncooperative will simply buy the Israelis more time to grab more land. But what is totally transparent is that while Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah may control current leadership in the West Bank, Palestinians overwhelmingly favor the negotiative position that Hamas has adopted. There is little to no Palestinian tolerance, therefore, for more of a peace process that goes nowhere. Therefore, if Annapolis occurs, it must be absolutely real: genuine talks, about the real and well-identified issues, leading to deadlines of months, not years, for final resolution. 
The need for justice in this matter must be squarely faced, and justice must be rendered to the Palestinian people. The alternative is for the outside world to go on tolerating the worst land grab of our time, the continuing confinement of the Palestinian people in two Israeli enforced open air prisons, and the continued maintenance of Israeli society in a self-imposed state of siege. If the United States chooses to sponsor talks in which there is nothing tangible on the table, the US sponsors will look foolish, because they and the Israelis are likely to be the only people present. Unless the US steps back, takes seriously the role of honest broker, and insists on a real peace agenda, it would be best all around if no talks occur.
The writer is the author of the recently published work, A World Less Safe, now available on Amazon, and he is a regular columnist on rense.com. He is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US Department of State whose immediate pre-retirement positions were as Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National War College and as Deputy Director of the State Office of Counter Terrorism and Emergency Planning. He will welcome comment at <mailto:wecanstopit@charter.net>wecanstopit@charter.net


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