The reason there is no progress toward ending the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians and a more general move toward peace in the Middle East is that some people are opposed to it and there is a widespread notion floating around that all the opposition is all on one side. Don't believe it. Yes, there are those in the region who don't wish to see a settlement and adamantly reject the reality that peace requires acceptance of the secure existence of Israel as a country. But they are smaller in number than we are constantly led to believe and their influence is not that great.
The principal stumbling block to a Middle East settlement has always been and remains the occupation.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was in the Middle East this week, said to be on a mission to secure participation in an international conference slated for Annapolis, Maryland that is being promoted by the Bush Administration to achieve a general settlement to the conflict. 'We welcome President Bush's decision to include Syria on the list of countries invited to a November Middle East peace meeting," the New York Times recently said editorially, going on to say, 'We hope this means that Mr. Bush and his aides are finally ready to push all sides to make the compromises essential for moving toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace.'
'As for why this sudden flexibility from the White House?," asked the Times. 'The conventional wisdom is that Mr. Bush's secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, wants to try and salvage the president's legacy - and her own - with a peace deal that could help stabilize the region that Mr. Bush's war in Iraq has so destructively roiled. It will take a lot more creative diplomacy to make that happen. Indeed, six trips into a too-little, too-late peace effort, Ms. Rice is having as much trouble making progress with Israel, America's close ally, as with Palestinians.' Rice is handicapped by the widespread view in the region that her trips there are intended only to create the impression that progress is being made more than anything else, and the editorial noted that Rice 'says she is not looking to stage just another photo op ...'
'A full-scale peace agreement may be unrealistic,' suggested the Times editors 'but Ms. Rice should aim to have the two sides sign a formal document laying out in as much detail as possible a framework for resolving the core issues of borders, refugees and the status of Jerusalem.'
The problems is that not everybody sees it that way and there are some powerful forces in Israel and the U.S. working overtime to see that that doesn't happen.
On October 5, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoting 'sources who spoke with senior PA (Palestinian Authority) officials in recent days,' said the Palestinians are proposing that the basis for an agreement to set the objectives of the conference be that 'Israel should declare an immediate freeze on construction in the settlements and quickly evacuate the outposts, as well as several settlements' and that 'the future border will be based on the 1967 lines. Exchanges of territory will be limited to 2 or 3 percent of the West Bank in order to ensure territorial contiguity for the future Palestinian state and prevent the division of the West Bank into several cantons surrounded by settlements. The territory to be exchanged must be equal in quantity and quality.'
The head of the Palestinian negotiating team, Ahmed Qureia, a former Palestinian Authority prime minister, recently told a Saudi newspaper that if a joint Israeli-Palestinian statement is not formulated before the conference, the Palestinians might decline to attend. On the other hand an Israeli official told Haaretz that his government sought instead for Annapolis to only 'witness the launching of the permanent status negotiations to achieve a peace treaty on all the core issues," after the conference.
Perhaps Rice will work out a compromise that will allow the conference to be convened but it is becoming increasingly doubtful. The monkey wrenches are flying in fast and furious.
First off, there was the action secured by supporters of hardline Israeli policies in the U.S., resulting in 77 members of the U.S. Senate sending a letter to Rice on the eve of her foray, calling for the Arab countries to reject Palestinian resistance groups. They called on Arab countries and the PA to reject terrorism and to isolate the Palestinian group Hamas, recognize Israel, "and not use such recognition as a bargaining chip for future concessions' - as a condition for even being invited to the conference. 'If Arab countries do not take these steps,' they said, "peace in the region will remain elusive."
The key here is the demand for the recognition of Israel prior to negotiations and the notion that things like giving up the occupied territories would amount to 'concession' on the part of the Israelis. Of course, the signing senators know full well that for the Palestinians or any of the Arab states to accept such conditions would doom the conference before it ever got off the ground. But it's an election year in the U.S. and they could pay a political price for saying otherwise.
The senators are echoing what a lot of voices in Israeli corridors of power are saying. Rice's efforts - if their aims are what they are purported to be - are also apparently being undermined from within the Administration. In May, Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams told a gathering of Jewish Republicans that Rice's frequent trips to the region is 'just process' - steps needed in order to keep the Europeans and moderate Arab countries 'on the team' and to make sure they feel that the United States is promoting peace in the Middle East, according to the Jewish community newspaper The Forward. According to one of the participants in the meeting, Abrams said that he does not believe that the United States can make much progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front. 'The United States could only see success, Abrams added, on limited issues relating to freedom of movement for Palestinians in the territories and efforts to strengthen the presidential guard of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas.'
Abrams' office later recanted the comments, saying he supports Rice's mission.
What most of the world calls 'the occupied territories' are referred to by right-wing parties in Israel as 'Judea and Samaria.' The policy objective is to hang on to them.
Rice, 'is moving boldly down the rabbit hole,' wrote Caroline Glick, a former member of the Israeli Defense Force and deputy editor of the Jerusalem Post. "It is far from clear what American interests Rice is advancing with her unswerving effort to reach a peace accord between Israel and Fatah. Indeed, Rice's efforts are detrimental to US interests in the region."
The Senator's warning, wrote Glick in the Post, is 'well placed. Rice is dragging Israel with her in her madcap descent down the diplomatic rabbit hole - and not for the first time," asserted Glick, who is also a fellow at the U.S. Center for Security Policy and is a cohort of many of the prominent neoconservative institutions and figures in the U.S. 'Rice has a record of forcing Israel to sacrifice its security in the interest of her Ëœpeace".'
Glick has made quite clear what the Israeli right-wing thinks about this conference maneuverings and they have no intention of relinquishing 'Judea, Samaria and parts of Jerusalem' - in other words, ending the occupation. 'All negotiations should be postponed until after the summit, and the summit should be delayed for weeks, then months, then years. Otherwise, in the name of Ëœpromoting peace," Rice and her Israeli underlings will foment a new war.'
It's also election time in Israel. Although one hasn't been scheduled it doesn't look as if the embattled Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert can retain his position for long. In addition to everything else, he's being hounded by corruption charges. If he could manage to help make the Annapolis confab look like a substantive step forward toward peace, he might survive. But his opponents appear determined to see that that doesn't happen. Waiting in the wing is hawkish former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, for whom Glick served as assistant foreign policy advisor.
Last Sunday, in the Israeli parliament, Netanyahu, the right-wing Likud opposition leader, bitterly attacked Olmert, accusing him of already agreeing to give up the occupied territories.
One hopes than the positive scenario unfolds, that the renewed efforts being made to bringing about peace in the Middle East succeed. But for that to happen, there must be recognition that the central issue is the occupation.
There is an international consensus as to the way forward in the Middle East and has been for decades. Its basic components are contained in United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, adopted unanimously November 22, 1967. It called for "the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East" through "the application of both the following principles: withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict" and "termination of all claims or states of belligerency" and respect for the right of every state in the area to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries. It was followed by Security Council Resolution 338 that called for a cease fire in the October War in 1973, embraced the principles of 242 and said, 'negotiations shall start between the parties concerned under appropriate auspices aimed at establishing a just and durable peace in the Middle East.'
The Arab countries originally rejected the UN resolution and disputes immediately broke out over whether they meant Israel would have to withdraw from all of the territory invaded and occupied in 1967 or not. Much time has passed since then and insisting on the application of 242 today would be unrealistic and counterproductive. The Palestinians are not mentioned in the resolutions and the question of the uprooted is not mentioned. But the political essence of the resolutions remains and the vast overwhelming majority of the nations and peoples of the international community favor its implementation. And, as the polls bear out, so do most Israelis and Palestinians.
This consensus has been expressed several times by member countries of the UN General assembly and in more recent proposals from the Arab world, most particularly those emanating from Saudi Arabia in 2002 and March of this year. The Saudi plan calls for full recognition of Israel by the states in the region, a withdrawal to pre-1967 borderlines, the establishment of an independent Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a return of Palestinian refugees to lands lost in the 1967 war.
"I think the Arab peace initiative of 2002 by Saudi Arabia is one of the pillars, which will facilitate the peace process in the Middle East," says United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon. "It is encouraging that Americans and Israelis are now trying to revisit this Arab peace process. I know that there are still reservations shared by Israelis. But one cannot always be fully satisfied with one or two agreements. We must build upon these good principles." _____
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union.