Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Jonas - In the Mideast, everything depends on your definition of peace

George Jonas
Full Comment
National Post
26 November '11


It was four years ago that the last White House-sponsored Middle East peace conference was held at Annapolis, Maryland, on Nov. 27, 2007. It produced smiles and hugs, along with joint communiqu├ęs. The closest friends don’t hug half as much as mortal enemies do at international gatherings. If counterfeiting affection were a crime, three-quarters of the diplomatic corps would be in jail.

Still, perhaps the most refreshing thing about the Annapolis peace conference was that it was almost illusion-free. Unlike Madrid, Oslo, Wye River and similar chimeras conjured up under the optimistic tutelage of U.S. presidents as different as strait-laced Bush the Elder and mellow Bill Clinton, the curtain rose on George W. Bush’s last-ditch attempt in a mood of total sobriety.

No one expected anything from Annapolis: Not the Americans convening it, not the Middle Easterners observing it and certainly not the Palestinians and Israelis sitting around a U-shaped table in a frescoed hall underneath the chandeliers of the U.S. Naval Academy.

In 2007 most people saw a factor that only a few noticed in the 1980s and 1990s. For peace-negotiations to succeed, it’s not enough for both sides to want peace in the abstract. They must also ascribe the same meaning to the term — and the two sides in the Middle East do not. Israel wants peace and so does the Arab/Muslim world, but Israel wants peace with the Arab/Muslim world and the Arab/Muslim world wants peace without Israel.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, many people failed to see what seemed self-evident to a few, namely that for the Palestinian leadership the “peace-process” was a mere ruse de guerre. When the late Yasser Arafat stepped unto the world’s stage, he made no bones about it at first. “The end of Israel is the goal of our struggle,” he had told the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci in 1972. “Peace for us means the destruction of Israel and nothing else.”

The rhetoric did change decades later, during Madrid, Oslo or Wye River, but even the rhetoric didn’t change much, especially when stripped of the veils of English and delivered in the dialects appropriate for home consumption in the Arab world. “Peace” exercises were designed to achieve better positions from which to push the Jews into the sea, figuratively or literally — and, of course, to secure the best position for chairman Arafat and his followers until that glorious hour arrived.

Around the time of Annapolis, writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, one-time Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky described an episode when, as an Israeli delegate to the Wye River summit, he and some colleagues managed to extract a promise from Arafat to delete from the Palestinian Charter the sections calling for the destruction of Israel.

“Upon leaving the conference room,” Sharansky recalled in his piece, “we saw one of the closest advisors of president Bill Clinton and proudly told him about our achievement. ‘Are you out of your minds?’ he shouted. ‘He’s going to be killed because of that. He is too weak for dramatic steps like that. First he has to be strengthened!’”

This anecdote sums up the charade of sham peace initiatives and “road maps” of the last 20 years, up to and including Annapolis.

To begin with, Arafat probably had no intention of excising any section calling for Israel’s destruction from the Palestinian Charter anyway. He had made half-hearted promises to do so long before Wye River and nothing came of them. He knew that understanding souls in the U.S. State Department would exempt him from having to go out on any such limb until he was suitably “strengthened.” But — and here’s the point — in the unlikely event that Arafat had actually made an attempt to remove the clause, he might well have been killed, just like Egypt’s Anwar Sadat.

I’ll go further and suggest that if Sadat’s successor, Hosni Mubarak, the ex-strongman of Egypt, is put to death now that he had been deposed by the much vaunted Arab Spring, he will die at least in part for having honoured his predecessor’s peace treaty with Israel. Minimally, in the eyes of his judges it will weigh against him as heavily as any of his misdeeds.

Throughout his career, Arafat was prepared to accept down payments from Israel on merchandise he had not only no intention of delivering, but which wasn’t his to deliver anyway. Arafat had no title to peace. Neither had Israel’s negotiating partner at Annapolis, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud “Abu Mazen” Abbas. If anything, Abbas’ grip on peace had been even more tenuous all along. Hamas, the terrorist group that controlled Gaza by 2007, had immediately scheduled a “counter-conference” to protest Palestinian attendance at Annapolis, which they described as “treason.”

Forget the smiles, the hugs, the photo ops. They secure Nobel Peace Prizes for politicians, not peace for people. The region wasn’t ready for peace in Arafat’s days and it isn’t ready now. A minority saw it then; a majority sees it today. Paradoxically, if there’s any hope, it’s only because majorities are so often wrong.

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