By Robert Fisk
Originally printed in The Independent.
Haven’t we been here before? Isn’t Annapolis just a repeat of the White House lawn and the Oslo agreement, a series of pious claims and promises in which two weak men, Messrs Abbas and Olmert, even use the same words of Oslo.
“It is time for the cycle of blood, violence and occupation to end,” the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Tuesday. But don’t I remember Yitzhak Rabin saying on the White House lawn that, “it is time for the cycle of blood ... to end”?
Jerusalem and its place as a Palestinian and Israeli capital isn’t there. And if Israel receives acknowledgement that it is indeed an Israeli state – and in reality, of course, it is – there can be no “right of return” for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled (or whose families fled) what became Israel in 1948.
And what am I to make of the following quotation from the full text of the joint document: “The steering committee will develop a joint work plan and establish and oversee the work of negotiations (sic) teams to address all issues, to be headed by one lead representative from each party.” Come again?
We went through all these steering committees before – and they never worked. True we’ve got a date of 12 December for the first session of this so-called “steering committee” and we have the faint hope from Mr Bush, embroidered, of course, with all the usual self-confidence, that we’re going to have an agreement by 2008. But how can the Palestinians have a state without a capital in Jerusalem? How can they have a state when their entire territory has been chopped up and divided by Jewish settlements and the settler roads and, in parts, by a massive war?
Yes of course, we all want an end to bloodshed in the Middle East but the Americans are going to need Syria and Iran to support this – or at least Syrian support to control Hamas – and what do we get? Bush continues to threaten Iran and Bush tells Syria in Annapolis that it must keep clear of Lebanese elections, or else. ...
Yes, Hizbollah is a surrogate of Iran and is playing a leading role in the opposition to the government of Lebanon. Do Bush and Condoleezza Rice (or Abbas or Olmert for that matter) really think they’re going to have a free ride for a year without the full involvement of every party in the region? More than half of the Palestinians under occupation are under the control of Hamas.
Reading the speeches – especially the joint document – it seems like an exercise in self-delusion. The Middle East is currently a hell disaster and the President of the United States thinks he is going to produce the crown jewels from a cabinet and forget Afghanistan and Iraq and Iran – and Pakistan, for that matter. The worst element of the whole Annapolis shindig is that once again millions of people across the Middle East – Muslims, Jews and Christians – will believe all this and will then turn – after its failure – with fury on their antagonists for breaking these agreements.
For more than two years, the Saudis have been offering Israel security and recognition by Arab states in return for a total withdrawal of Israeli forces from the occupied territories. What was wrong with that? Mr Olmert promised that “negotiations will address all the issues which thus far has been evaded”. Yet the phrase “withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territories” simply doesn’t exist in the text.
Like most people who live in the Middle East, I would like to enjoy these dreams and believe they are true. But they are not. Wait for the end of 2008.