Saturday, December 08, 2007

Annapolis is not only about land

Annapolis Is Not Only About Land: Achieving Peace Requires Attitude Change, Truth Telling and Empowerment

Ghassan Rubeiz, December 4, 2007

Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

Predicting the impact of the Middle East peace process initiated last week in Annapolis is extremely difficult. Commentators praise or curse Annapolis. Some are skeptical and others hopeful.

This writer is hopeful but mindful of many negative side effects of an odd peace initiative. The Palestinian peace partner with Israel is Fattah, while the democratically elected Hamas government is left out of the process. Since Hamas has been ignored, isolated and humiliated in the recent past, Annapolis may end up deepening the divisions between Palestinian communities. Another side effect is Israel’s possible war on a demonized Gaza government. Such a war would be to “free” Fattah to negotiate peace on terms that would be acceptable to Israel.

There are more possible counterproductive results. Annapolis may give the US Administration moral cover for its vindictive isolation of Hamas from the political arena. A new abortive peace process may strengthen the belief that rational means of conflict resolution do not work in the Middle East. Failure would strengthen extreme views: Jews who believe that Arabs will never abandon their wish to destroy Israel and Arabs who are convinced that Jews are bent on wiping Palestine off the map.

Given all that may go wrong after Annapolis, it is still good to see the US reactivate the peace process, even at the eleventh hour of the term of the current Administration. One hopes that the leaders who are sponsoring the peace process would stumble over solutions. As a process, Annapolis is poorly led and surrounded by threats.

Nevertheless, there is a chance for Annapolis to contribute to peace. First, there is a precious base of understanding on a viable Palestinian state and a regionally accepted Israel. Second, there are some peace ideas that have almost succeeded in previous rounds. Third, the US Administration has learned the hard way from past failures - in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Pakistan- that it should soften its diplomacy. Annapolis may be the start of a U turn in Washington’s foreign policy in the Middle East.

Could Annapolis be the stage for revisiting half baked solutions? Could Annapolis set up the structures for peace making not only between Arabs and Jews but also between the rival sectors of Palestinian and Israeli society? Annapolis would be judged by its ability to solve conflict between the two interwoven nations as well as to close the divide-between the moderate and the extreme- within each nation.

The solid progress achieved so far in negotiating Arab-Israeli peace must not be forgotten or minimized. Seeing the glass half-full is important for sustaining the momentum for peace. Let us first look back at past achievements in peace making and then entertain new ideas for further progress in justice for peace and reconciliation.

What is the repertoire of peace among Arabs today? Two Arab states have already made peace with Israel - Egypt and Jordan. The rest of the Arab countries have informally accepted Israel’s existence and reduced their expectations for the scope of a future Palestinian state. Arab states have recognized Israel and defined future Palestine in a Saudi-sponsored peace plan that was drafted over four years ago. The twelve Arab states, including Syria, who attended Annapolis, showed their readiness for peace with Israel.

There is parallel progress toward peace in Israel. The majority of Israelis have acknowledged the existence of a Palestinian nation in search of a state. Tel Aviv has acknowledged that peace requires the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Israel also indicates, albeit with hesitation, its willingness to return the Golan Heights to Damascus after demilitarization of the border area. Israel is aware that demography is not on its side and the status quo is too dangerous to ignore. In defense of the peace process Ehud Olmert last week said that Israel “is finished” once it starts ruling an Arab majority.

What new ideas are there for promoting peace? In the Annapolis peace process Arabs and Israelis will bargain with passion on the following three issues: borders of Israel and a future Palestinian state, rights of return to homeland of Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem as a possible capital of the two states.

The most difficult issue is the re-defining of borders of Israel/Palestine. For Palestinians redrawing Israeli borders is simple: Israel withdraws from all the land it occupied in 1967. Palestinians will ask the Israelis to withdraw from all the West Bank and East Jerusalem just as they withdrew from Gaza in 2005. Israel will resist full withdrawal claiming that it has no place to absorb 477 000 settlers. In defense, Israel argues that the settlements constitute a security zone. Finally, Israelis hawks claim that dismantling the Jewish communities of eight percent of the population is beyond the authority of any Israeli cabinet.

The two sides will argue endlessly about full withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem. At the end of the process, given the weak position of Palestinians, their negotiating leaders may be persuaded to give up on full dismantling of the Israeli settlements in return for a land swap from another geographical corner of Israel.
It is on this issue where Palestinians will be pressured to compromise the most.
If the settlements “survive” the peace process, Palestinians may gain strong bargaining credit on other issues.

On the question of the right of return of the five million refugees to their “Historic Palestine”, the Israelis may be asked to take a moral reconciliatory move. It is true that the return of millions of Palestinians to Israel would be a “nightmare scenario” for the Jewish state; free return to old Palestine does not sell at all in the peace process. This option will materialize only through a war in which Arabs would defeat Israel.

But Israel’s power superiority does not erase its responsibility in the creation of the problem of the Palestinian refugees. The creation and expansion of the state of Israel involved the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in 1948 and in 1967. Israelis should assume at least partial responsibility for the Palestinian refugee tragedy: population transfer and loss of homeland. Israel’s recognition of its moral responsibility in the issue of refugees would help Palestinians take a step in forgiveness and in dealing with the reality of limited return to their homeland. Truth telling is reconciliatory.

As the world Jewish community is asked to assume responsibility in the collective suffering of the Palestinians, Arabs are asked to make a strong and wholehearted gesture of acceptance of Israel. Without full Arab acceptance of Israel and Israeli acceptance of Palestine the peace process will remain poisoned.

Alone, management of emotions does not make lasting peace. Palestinians deserve concrete action to alleviate the deep suffering of their three to four million refugees who live in desolate camps. The first concrete measure would be to allow Palestinians to return to the envisioned Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

This limited right of return should be supplemented with material compensation for those who are unable to return. The cost of a massive and comprehensive program to compensate Palestinian refugees for living outside their homeland should be shared by Israel, the Arab states, the US and the European community.

An economic estimate is needed for what it would cost to put every Palestinian child in school, every young adult in a job, every academically eligible high school graduate into a university, every family in need of shelter in decent housing and every Palestinian covered for universal health care. An empowered refugee has lost land but not dignity.

Whatever that human empowerment program cost it would be a mere fraction of what it costs to perpetuate the status quo. In Palestinian fighting for justice-with suicide attacks- and in Israeli fighting for security -with cluster bombs- the defense cost is enormous, results are counterproductive and hope is in decline.

Jerusalem is the third outstanding issue for the current peace process. The goal is to offer Palestinians partial ownership in Jerusalem. The dense Palestinians demography in East Jerusalem and the religious importance of this city -for Muslims and Christians- make it imperative for Israelis to compromise on this issue. Some form of Arab /Israeli partnership of Jerusalem is necessary to conclude a peace deal.

The operational parameters of sharing two capitals in one city are daunting. Ownership and access to religious sites, logistics of tourism and security, and a myriad of other considerations, require ingenious planning and painful sacrifice from all sides. It is here where Israel’s latitude of diplomacy will be most tested.

The road to peace is long and complicated. It will take beyond a year and more than the conviction of a few leaders to conduct the peace process successfully. What the Annapolis process may deliver is a new structure for continuity of peace making and a degree of progress in understanding between the rival sides.

Palestinians and Israelis need to change attitudes in order achieve lasting peace. Peace requires unity of Palestinians and adoption of a non-violence strategy of liberation. Similarly, Israelis must abandon schemes of new wars and new settlements to achieve security.

Israelis are struggling to preserve national security and Palestinians are struggling to achieve statehood. Israelis are afraid to lose their advantage in military power and in dominance over resources. Palestinians are afraid to lose legitimacy of their case in a world that keeps diminishing their inalienable rights

Achieving lasting peace requires more than smart bargaining about land and rights. Peace often requires profound attitude change, truth telling and the empowerment of people.

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