The Annapolis peace talks, hopeful start or pointless posturing?
I thought I should at least mention the peace talks in Annapolis. Peace talks have a long and interesting history and have resolved many a peasant revolt. The leader of the peasants, revolutionaries, aborigine king, whatever is invited to a peace parley with the King or his representatives. Pleased to be finally recognized and taken seriously, the aggrieved party’s leaders go to the talks to settle the issue. There they are arrested for treason and hung, and any peasants that dare continue their revolt are hunted down like dogs. Nowadays the hangings are usually figurative rather than literal, but the intent and the result is usually pretty much the same.
There are exceptions of course, but I’m not holding my breath on this one. The Palestinians aren’t about to surrender all of their claims as a precondition to “negotiations,” which is what the demand that they “recognize” a borderless and undefined “Jewish state” is all about. And as well the USA and Israel have worked very hard to keep the Palestinians divided and squabbling among themselves, not to mention physically walling them into a dozen or more cantons, aka ghettos. The hard liners in Israel have no interest in negotiating, they get more of what they want all the time, and another failed “peace talk” will just fast track more settlements and more de facto territorial annexations. And obviously there are other fingers in this pie as well, and not all of them are interested in peace.
It’s all a damn shame of course, since it’s a good bet that most of the people living in the region would prefer to live in peace. Most of the leaders involved are trapped by the situation they are in. Even Olmert is saying some pretty reasonable things, he basically pointed out the obvious, there either needs to be a two state solution…or Israel needs to annex the occupied territories. With the stated fear that the later would result in an Israel that did not have a Jewish majority. Which is pretty much the situation that has existed since 1967 when Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The thing he doesn’t mention, and that people in the west are usually unaware of, is that Israel holds all the cards. Israel could recognize Palestine tomorrow and end this impasse, but the hard liners in Israel aren’t about to let that happen.
It should also be pointed out that a peace conference that didn’t include Hamas was beyond pointless. That however is the way of the west, we only recognize our favoured opponents as “legitimate.” Pretty much guarantees that no matter what, we get what we want. And if we don’t, we can conveniently blame it on the people we refuse to talk to. There are more and more voices in Israel these days calling out for peace, so who knows. When people sit down and talk, anything is possible. I’m kinda underwhelmed by the leadership all around these days, so I’m not very optimistic. We need giants and we have pygmys.
I hope what happened at Camp David in 2000 doesn’t repeat itself. There Israel offered the PLO their most generous offer yet. They offered them independence and 80% of the West Bank. And since then the people who want to blame everything on the Palestinians have been crowing that obviously the Palestinians “don’t want peace” since they refused this “generous” offer. What these people don’t know, or worse, fail to mention, is that the “state” Israel was offering was not contiguous, it was in several large chunks with Israeli corridors running between them. Even worse, Israel was to retain control of the borders, airspace, and aquifers. In other words in Israel offered to let the Palestinians live in several large open air prisons, completely at the mercy of Israel.
Oddly enough the idea of a “state” that not only didn’t control its own borders and airspace, but didn’t even own the water under its feet, was rejected out of hand by Arafat. The offer was of course designed to be refused, such is how much “diplomacy” works. Maybe someday pressure inside or outside of Israel will force them to make a reasonable offer, but I don’t see that happening any time soon. Until that day, extremists on all sides will find justification for violence, and justifications for blaming it on their enemies. Sometimes I think international relations is no more than two guys hitting each others with sticks, and between blows shouting “This is your fault.”
While we are on the subject, for those who are still claiming that Israel is surrounded by all these terrible enemies who would destroy Israel if they let down their guard for a second, please. It wasn’t true in 1948 and it’s absurd in the modern world. Israel is the world’s fourth largest military power, and the pre-eminent military power in the Middle East. And they have nuclear weapons for God’s sake, it’s not like they can’t defend themselves. And secondly note that Israel has been at peace for decades with Jordan and Egypt, two of its formerly sworn enemies. So of course a solution is possible, but damned if I know a path out of this maze of death. Talking is a start, and if something good eventually does come out of Annapolis, I’ll be glad to have been proved wrong.
(The above image of Abbas, Bush, and Olmert is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit, it is central to illustrating the post, it is an historically important image, and its use here in no way impedes the copyright holder’s commercial use of the image. It is also a grey scale low resolution reproduction of the original image. Credit: AFP/Getty images)