Two major developments dominate the news in our region. George Bush has ratcheted up the hysterical anti-Iranian campaign – even going so far as to threaten the world with a third world war. At the same time, the United States is convening an important “peace meeting” designed, ostensibly, to jump start the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The preparations themselves seem to be in need of some acceleration.
Haaretz diplomatic correspondent, Shmuel Rosner summed up Ms. Rice’s most recent appearance before the House Foreign Affairs Committee (Haaretz, 25.10.07): No date for the meeting has been fixed. Invitations have not been sent out. Preliminary meetings are still going on. We learn that the meeting which was supposed to meet in the fall is now planned for “before the end of the year.” Fortunately for Rice, no one in the House was interested in the details of the substance of the proposed solutions to the conflict.
We can add that no serious analyst believes that Olmert and Abu Mazen will reach any significant agreement. Olmert wants to stay in the Road Map framework which according to Israel allows it to veto any further steps, ad infinitum, i.e., until it is satisfied that very last terrorist has been eliminated from the scene. Unsurprisingly, Bush and Rice refuse to challenge Olmert’s position that Israel is interested only in a “restatement of the basis for future negotiations.”
The most revealing element in Rice’s appearance before the House committee is her emphasis that the Annapolis meeting is an opportunity to strengthen the “moderates” versus the “extremists, in the entire region.” She is just as clear on this as she is foggy about the crucial details of possible Israeli concessions. The lack of details is foreboding, and you can say that in our case the devil is in the lack of details. There is no hint in any of Rice’s previous appearances to the effect that the meeting would result in the Israeli recognition of any Palestinian demand.
Therefore, in order to avoid a fiasco, Rice must get Abu Mazen to sign on to some sort of document, even if it is replete with ambiguities and loop holes. Bush and Rice do not have the slightest inclination to quarrel with Israel precisely now when they are rescuing it from the claws of the Iranian dragon. And moreover, Israel is still the ultimate ally, the unsinkable aircraft carrier backing the US and even willing to lead the way. The pressure will be on the Palestinians and not on Israel.
But even though there is no chance for progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front, Rice is not doing Annapolis just for another photo opportunity. Nor is it enough for her to hold an international meeting just in order to show the world that the United States is “at least trying” to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace. Rice stressed the regional aspect of Annapolis at the recent House hearing. And it is this dimension that is critical. There is a deep connection between the threats of the Bush administration to launch a war against Iran and Rice’s efforts to use Annapolis to mobilize the “moderates”, the anti-Iranian establishments in the Arab world.
It is simplistic to assume that the United States and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority will be unable to do business because Israel is not ready for meaningful concessions. Abu Mazen’s very first requirement for survival is backing against the challenge from Hamas. It is no coincidence that Fatah, the US administration and Israel all use the same Islamophobic phraseology against Hamas. Annapolis will provide the Bush administration various, sundry ways to express its support and admiration for the moderate Fatah leadership. Such admiration might find expression in a number of more “even-handed” declarations by the US hosts. These words will then be presented by the Fatah people as proof that participation was worth the effort, despite the stalemate on the Israeli front. Moreover, in the nether world - support often means, more than anything else, weaponry and finance. Washington is smart enough to value the opportunity to add the official leadership of the Palestinian people to its inventory of pro-US governments. It is, of course, a weakened and weary Palestinian leadership, but it is Palestinian. And Palestine is still a powerful symbol for the Arab world.
Indeed, the idea of genuine Palestinian self-determination was and still is a pivotal component of the historical struggle for national and regional self determination. At this point, the United States wishes to manipulate the Palestinian cause to further its own designs in the region which center on Bush’s preparations for WWIII. Sadly, all indications suggest that Abu Mazan is “playing ball” and there is every reason to believe that he will continue doing so. Over the years, Fatah has come to resemble many of the secular national groups in the third world, which have lost their initial national inspiration and momentum, and have settled for somehow making out in the world of neo-liberal realities. This is the real background for the surge in Hamas prestige and popularity.
The progressive, secular circles in Israel, and especially those in the Arab sector have always seen Abu Mazen (Arafat’s heir) and Fatah as the faithful standard bearer of the national cause. Many will remain loyal to Abu Mazen out of sentiment and respect. This may be the reason that many still refuse to see the dubious nature of Abu Mazen’s current role and his responsibility for allowing the Palestinian national cause to be dragged through the mud of a war campaign under the leadership of George Bush.
The Palestinian Authority expands its US sponsored military cooperation with Israel while more than a million Palestinians in Gaza are subjected to intensifying immoral and illegal collective punishment. Israel, by imposing a permanent state of siege and enforcing total isolation of the strip, has turned Gaza into one big detention camp. The IDF which controls all imports and supplies has announced plans for cuts in electric power and fuel for transport. Restrictions on imports cover almost everything and included a ban on dangerous items like milk powder for babies. Haaretz correspondents, Amos Harel and Avi Issacharov who cover the occupied territories consider the latest steps as an indication of increased chances for an all out offensive to re-occupy the Gaza area. (Haaretz, October 26, 2007). Israel’s sanctions in Gaza are quite convenient for Condoleezza and her efforts to prove that life can be beautiful for moderates, but will be hell on earth for extremists.
The United States and the Palestinian Authority have received assurances from Olmert that Israel will not allow things to deteriorate into a humanitarian crisis. This, of course, raises the question of just how much suffering, deprivation, day to day frustrations and anguish Israel can impose on more than a million Gazans without it being a humanitarian crisis, before piles of dead bodies are strewn on the streets.