Sunday, December 02, 2007

Annapolis: A Setup for Failure

There is one unfortunate commonality between all of the efforts made in recent years to bring peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It is also present in the recent peace conference at Annapolis.

You may have seen some of the protests within the Palestinian world towards the proceedings and wondered why anyone would be against ‘peace.’

It is not ‘peace’ that people are against. It is the ‘conditions’ for peace that people object to.

All of the efforts to bring peace between these two peoples, in recent years, have unfortunately put all kinds of ‘pre-conditions’ on the Palestinians to do impossible things before Israel is required to implement it’s part of any bargain. Palestinians must act first, and then Israel will act.

The problem is that what is placed before the Palestinians to do is almost always a complete impossibility, without some major actions by Israel to alleviate the internal pressures within the Palestinian society that are creating the impetus for anger and violence.

It is much the same as telling a starving and completely financially destitute person that in order to be given a meal, they must first acquire farming equipment, plow and plant a field, install an irrigation system, secure water rights from a neighbor and then (and only then) they will be fed. Could the person who is near starvation really be expected to have the motivation or inner (and outer) resources to accomplish this task? It places before them an impossible requirement that they cannot realistically be expected to achieve before their most basic suffering is alleviated.

For example, after Israel nearly completely destroyed the Palestinian Authority (PA) (which eventually led to the split between Fatah and Hamas and the takeover of Gaza by Hamas), the agreements frequently called for the PA to reign in militants, disarm them and halt all attacks on Israel throughout the Palestinian Territories. Meanwhile, blockades and sanctions aimed at ‘punishing’ Palestinians (for rocket attacks or electing unpopular people not supported by the US or Israel) destroyed the economy and daily lives of an entire population. Electricity, water and gas (all controlled by Israel) are frequently cut off or restricted for all of Gaza (where 1 million Palestinians live).

Israel is not required to act to hold up their end of the bargain (no matter what it is) until their ‘conditions’ are met by the Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority is powerless to implement the requirements. The agreements seem to imply that there is a centralized and coordinated Palestinian ‘army’ of sorts. This is not what exists, at all, within Palestinian society. Activities of any sort are not coordinated at some high level of a well formed government and executed throughout the population. To believe that is a gross misunderstanding of the facts.

An equivalent example at home might be that the govermnment decides to cut off law enforcement funding from the city of Los Angeles until it can achieve one month without any violent crimes occurring within the city limits. Does anyone think that would work? Any agreement that requires this sort of condition to be met BEFORE reciprocal action is taken by the other party… is doomed to failure.

These excerpts from an AP article on Yahoo yesterday Israel's Premier Rejects Peace Deadline demonstrates what I am talking about:

JERUSALEM - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday that Israel is not bound by a December 2008 target for a peace agreement set at last week's U.S.-hosted Mideast summit, telling his Cabinet that progress will depend on the Palestinians' ability to rein in militants.

“Israel will not have to carry out any commitment stemming from the agreement before all of the road map commitments are met," Olmert told his Cabinet.

Of course Olmert is speaking of commitments being met by the Palestinians.

In other words, “When the Palestinians meet all the conditions we have placed on them then we will do what we’re supposed to do. Not before.”

Who, in their right mind, would agree to such a thing? The protests you see in Gaza and the West Bank about Annapolis, are because they know the score. The belief there is that nothing will change for the Palestinians, no matter what. They’ve heart this song and dance before. They’ve met different ‘conditions’ in the past, and still their lives have become more oppressed and more miserable. They have no reason to trust that when they do everything they are supposed to do… that Israel will do the same. There is no good will, and none seems to be forthcoming.

In my opinion, the most powerful in any situation is the party which has the most responsibility to act. Israel has all the power in the situation (military, economic, social) and yet puts the responsibility to change things on the Palestinians. That is a recipe for failure.

I have been asked by people back home what is being said about these peace talks here in the Middle East. Here are a few recent quotes from the Arab/Palestinian perspective:

“Annapolis is a big Bull S***.”

“Annapolis is a good photo op for George Bush to put on his CV (Resume).”

“It would be better for them to hold these talks in Nablus (an Arab town in the West Bank) than in Annapolis. In Annapolis they stay in nice hotels and sleep in good beds. Let them come and see what is really happening to the Palestinians.”

If Israelis (Americans or anyone else) are optimistic at all about Annapolis I think it reflects a misunderstanding of the current situation.

The unfortunate reality on the Israeli side is that, like most Americans, most Israelis don’t understand the true underlying causes of the anger and discontent that arises within the Palestinian community. In many ways Israelis are shielded from the realities here in the same way that Americans are, which might seem impossible given the geographic proximity to the Palestinians, but one must understand that it is like parallel realities over here. Most Israelis have never been to Gaza or deep into the West Bank. Most have never been through a checkpoint (a daily part of Palestinian life). Gaza and the West Bank might as well be a million miles away. The hardships and oppression experienced by the people there is not known to most average Israelis. You can’t care about what you don’t know about. Some would see if given the opportunity. Others, due to fear and distrust might not see even if given the chance. It’s amazing what we can blind ourselves to when we are in fear.

The bottom line, however, is that you cannot address a situation that you do not acknowledge or have knowledge about. To try to solve a conflict, when you don’t understand the fundamental issues of the ‘other’ side, is impossible.

I am an eternal optimist and I do believe that peace in this region (and in the world) is possible. I do not, however, believe it will emerge from conferences employing the model used in Annapolis. I am glad that Annapolis took place, but it is merely another stepping stone on the path. Hopefully it moves a bit closer to our goal, although it is still far from it. We can’t get to the target, however, without going through a lot of territory that isn’t really taking us in the right direction. Rarely are big changes accomplished in one smooth effort that follows a straight path. I think it is an inevitable part of the process of transformation to travel down many fruitless paths. My hope is that, eventually, many eyes, all around the world, will be open to the actual problem that needs to be solved. Only then will we be able to turn our energy away from hollow strategies that merely make everything appear tranquil on the surface while the wound festers underneath.

Attempts to provide security and a high quality of life exclusively for the State of Israel while ignoring and allowing the persecution and suffering of an entire people is never going to provide the base for a peaceful Middle East. It is in all of our best interests to come to this understanding and call for real solutions for ALL people here. Everyone deserves a peaceful and satisfying life. Ultimately, that’s what most everyone here wants, Israelis and Palestinians alike: a chance to live.

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