Posts Tagged ‘the Annapolis peace conference’

Peace process? What peace process?

November 3, 2008
Posted by: Wafa Amr | Global News Blog, Nov 3, 2008

This is a common phrase used by both Israelis and Palestinians when asked about the negotiations process that was launched by U.S. President George W. Bush at Annapolis last year and which, according to Bush’s timeline, should have produced a Palestinian state by the end of his presidency in January.

Since the signing of the Oslo provisional peace deal 15 years ago, Israeli and Palestinian intellectuals, professionals, and politicians have held hundreds of meetings in Israel and in most European cities to promote dialogue and coexistence, in the hope that eventually Palestinians will have the state the accords outlined for them, living in peace alongside Israel.

This week, the Peres Center for Peace, established after the Oslo peace accords, drew hundreds of Israelis, Arabs, and international leaders and professionals to discuss peace during its 10th anniversary event in Tel Aviv, under the aegis of former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, now Israel’s largely ceremonial president.

I attended sessions of the 3-day event and also took part, as a journalist covering the conflict for the past 14 years, in a meeting a week earlier between Israeli and Palestinian representatives of the media and academics in Seville, Spain, hosted by the Three Cultures Foundation , a non-profit organization founded under the aegis of the Andalusian Regional Government and Morocco, and organized by the Israeli and Palestinian branches of the Geneva Initiative Peace Coalition.

The mood at both meetings among activists committed to a peaceful solution to the 60-year-old conflict was sombre.

In between the two meetings, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians who won her party’s elections to replace Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, announced she had failed in forming a government and called for early elections scheduled for February.

A key sticking point was the refusal of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish religious Shas party to join her in a coalition because of its opposition to her negotiating with Palestinians on dividing Jerusalem between Israel and a new Palestinian state.

Divisions in Israeli society over the Oslo accords, divisions that led to the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 – coincidentally on Nov. 4, the date of this week’s U.S. presidential election — continue to pose obstacles to peacemaking.

In Seville, a historic place of meeting, and conflict, among Jews, Muslims and Christians, Israelis and Palestinians sat in cafes and in formal sessions to discuss coexistence, and chances for an elusive peace that has weakened the peace camps in both neighbouring societies.

During the two-day seminar, professor Tamar Hermann, Dean of Academic Studies at the Open University in Israel, who conducts monthly opinion polls on Israeli positions regarding the peace process, presented figures that show that in 10 or 20 years, there won’t be a population in Israel receptive of peace ideas. She said some 70 percent of Orthdox Jews in Israel identified themselves as right-wing, and noted that the Orthodox community is growing fast as a proportion of the population.

The poll also showed that only 12 percent perceived an escalation of the Palestinian resistence as a threat. Hermann, a political scientist, said that “making peace with their Palestinian neighbours was not the prime goal of the Jews in Israel.”

Palestinian writer Hassan Khader, another participant in the Seville conference said the Israeli state of denial was harming the Jews. “Does it really serve the Israeli interests to defeat the Palestinians? In the 1967 war, they won the war, but forty years later it showed it was one of their worst traps.”

Palestinians have been increasingly disillusioned with peace as Palestinian negotiators conduct frequent sessions of negotiations with their Israeli counterparts without progress. The Palestinians have seen their lands confiscated for more settlements and walls and fences constructed around the Gaza Strip and West Bank that have isolated them from the rest of the world.

The only Israelis many Palestinians know are the soldiers at checkpoints or armed settlers attacking farmers harvesting their land in the West Bank. One secular Israeli politician said: “The extreme settlers are forming militias. They’re armed and claim they represent God, yet we don’t confront them. We say they’re a small group.But they will turn into a Hezbollah and eventually they will turn against us. We still can’t see this.”

The younger generation in Israel, which has come to adulthood since the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on Nov. 4, 1995, is less supportive of peace since the images they have seen were of exploding buses and have never visited the Palestinian areas, Hermann said.
Gadi Baltiansky, director of the Israeli branch of the Geneva Initiative said time was running out and people must feel a sense of urgency to make dramatic decisions about peace.But as time is running out, there is a state of limbo. The Palestinians are divided as never before and may go to elections next year when President Mahmoud Abbas’ term ends. Israel too is heading for elections in February.

The mood among the activists is one of alarm.

“If two governments will be elected in both sides which are anti-peace … then unfortunately we are heading towards a tragedy. I can hope rationalism will win,” said Ron Pundak, one of the Israelis closely involved in the Oslo peace process.

Palestinians play a wild card

September 5, 2008

By Mark LeVine | Asia Times, Sep 5, 2008

Lost in the international uproar over Russia’s Olympic Games-eve invasion and occupation of Georgia and now the political and meteorological storms sweeping across the United States is a seismic shift in the dynamics of another conflict, one which offers a similarly vexing challenge to the core policy goals of the United States, Europe and many Middle Eastern governments to that posed by a newly belligerent Russia.

Largely unreported in the American and Western media, on August 10, two days after the start of both the Russian invasion and the Olympics, Palestinian lead negotiator Ahmed Qurie declared that if the peace process did not advance towards a final settlement soon, Palestinians would stop pursuing a two-state solution and demand the establishment of a bi-national state with Israel.

After the Annapolis peace conference held last November in the United States, Israel and the Palestinians agreed to form two negotiation teams to reach an agreement on major permanent status issues before the end of this year. Hopes are fading for any agreement within this timeframe, especially on statehood, which makes Qurie’s comments all the more pertinent.

Qurie, better known as Abu Alaa, explained, “The Palestinian leadership has been working on establishing a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders … If Israel continues to oppose making this a reality, then the Palestinian demand for the Palestinian people and its leadership [would be] one state, a bi-national state.”

In effect, pressure would be put on Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas to halt all negotiations and demand that Israel annex the Palestinian territories with all their residents. Indeed, Abbas has hinted he might dissolve the PA and demand a bi-national state if progress is not made soon.

According to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, a forum has begun activities in the Occupied Territories and the Palestinian diaspora aimed at dismantling the PA and the return of responsibility for the territories to Israel. A petition in this regard was published this week in the London-based, Arabic-language al-Hayat daily newspaper.

To date, Israel’s leadership has refused to get excited by the Palestinian threat of a bi-national state. “It’s all a tactic,” said a senor government official was quoted in the media as saying this week. “I would not bet on it in a casino.”

All the same, the issue represents a sea-change in Palestinian attitudes towards the peace process. Even at its lowest ebb, former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat threatened merely to declare a state within the West Bank and Gaza.

Today the mere possibility of a bi-national solution so frightens Israel’s leaders that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert equated it with apartheid, warning that if the two-state process failed, Israel would “face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, and as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished”.

The reason Israel would be “finished” is clear: given the current state of relations between Jews and Palestinians it is difficult to envision Jews maintaining control over the territory, holy places, military, economy and immigration of Israel/Palestine in a bi-national state, especially after the demographic balance shifts in favor of Palestinians, as many experts believe it is close to doing.

In such a situation, Israel as a Jewish state would either “vanish from the pages of time”, as Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has infamously advocated, or an all-out civil war would erupt that would likely result in the exile of the vast majority of Palestinians from both Israel and the Occupied Territories.

Despite these apocalyptic possibilities, the peace process today stands close to the bi-national abyss. The more Palestinians feel they have nothing left to lose, the more likely it becomes that they will press for “one person, one vote”, returning in essence if not rhetoric to the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s pre-1988 advocacy of a “secular democratic state” in all of pre-1948 Palestine.

In reality, this turn of events should not surprise anyone. Already a generation ago, Israeli geographer Meron Benvenisti argued in his 1987 West Bank Data Base Project that by the mid-1980s, the Occupied Territories had become so integrated into Israel that it was no longer possible to separate them. By the time Palestinians and Israelis were ready to negotiate a “divorce” in the early 1990s it was too late to do so.

Continued . . .

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