Despite the best efforts by the Bush administration of putting a positive spin on the recently-completed summit in Annapolis to restart the "Performance-Based Road Map to Peace," there is little reason to expect that it will actually move the Israeli-Palestinian peace process forward as long as the United States insists on simultaneously playing the role of chief mediator and chief supporter of the more powerful of the two parties.
Though the Road Map was originally put together in 2002 as an international effort - with the United Nations, Russia and the European Union (which take a more balanced approach to the conflict) on equal footing with the United States - it's the United States alone that is now in charge of monitoring the process. According to text of the Annapolis agreement, "implementation of the future peace treaty will be subject to the implementation of the road map, as judged by the United States" (emphasis added).
President George W. Bush added that "The parties further commit to continue the implementation of the ongoing obligations of the road map until they reach a peace treaty" and "The United States will monitor and judge the fulfillment of the commitment of both sides of the road map." Alarms Raised
Given that the United States has consistently sided with Israel, the occupying power, throughout the peace process in its disputes with the Palestinians, it gives little hope that Palestinian concerns will be adequately addressed. This has raised alarms among international observers, such as Saudi Foreign minister Saud al-Faisal, who stressed that it was "absolutely necessary to establish an international follow-up mechanism that monitors progress in the negotiations among the parties, as well as the implementation of commitments made" (emphasis added).
Phase I of the original Road Map included 24 points that were required of the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, including an end to Palestinian violence, Palestinian political reform (including free elections), Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian Authority areas re-conquered since 2001, and a freeze on the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. Even though the document made clear that these were to be pursued simultaneously and in parallel to each other, the United States has accepted Israel's interpretation that Israel was not required to address any of its obligations under Phase I until the Palestinians had first completely lived up to all of its obligations under Phase I.
In other words, unless or until the weakened and isolated Palestine Authority could somehow prevent every Palestinian with access to guns, explosives or rockets from attacking any Israelis, the government of Israel was under no obligation to pursue any of its responsibilities under the Road Map.
Furthermore, through a series of presidential statements, exchanges of letters and congressional resolutions, the United States has already gone on record supporting the Israeli position on most of the outstanding issues. Examples include refusing to acknowledge the right of return of Palestinian refugees, accepting Israeli annexation of greater East Jerusalem, not requiring Israel to completely withdraw from territories seized in the 1967 War, and allowing Israel to maintain large settlement blocs on the occupied West Bank. Limited Leverage
With Israel's extraordinary military superiority over any combination of Arab forces ruling out a military option and with the United States blocking the United Nations from placing sanctions on Israel, the only leverage the Arab states currently have is to withhold diplomatic and economic relations from Israel until Israel withdraws from the occupied territories. As a result, those wishing to enable Israel to successfully annex the occupied territories have been pushing the Arab states to unilaterally end their economic boycott and recognize Israel without Israel being obliged to end its occupation and colonization of the West Bank and the Golan Heights.
Just prior to the Annapolis conference, a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, drafted by Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, insisted that success of the Annapolis conference would be based not on Israeli willingness to live up to its international legal obligations but "on the cooperation we receive from the larger Arab world." The letter insisted that Arab states wishing to attend the conference should unilaterally "recognize Israel's right to exist and not use such recognition and as bargaining chip for future Israel concessions" and "end the Arab League economic boycott of Israel in all its forms." The letter made no mention of the establishment of a Palestinian state, and end to the Israeli occupation, the withdrawal of illegal Israeli settlements, or any other Israeli obligations. As Jim Zogby of the moderate nonpartisan Arab American Institute put it, "if the goal is for Arab states not to participate in the upcoming conference, this would be the way to go."
The letter was signed by 79 Senators, including presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Christopher Dodd and Joseph Biden.
Fortunately, the Bush administration resisted this effort to sabotage the conference by refusing to establish such pre-conditions, yet once again the United States appears to be putting the onus of responsibility on those under foreign military occupation and their allies rather than the occupiers themselves. Given that the Palestinians have already given up 78% of historic Palestine in the 1993 Oslo Accords, Israeli and U.S. demands that they give up even more of their homeland will indeed be hard for the Palestinians to accept.
This bias toward the occupying power was evident in Bush's speech in Annapolis, in which he reiterated the U.S. contention that the Palestinian Authority, whose areas of control are confined to series of tiny impoverished cantons surrounded by Israeli occupation forces, must take the lead. Despite these unfavorable conditions, Bush insisted that prior to the final status issues being addressed, the Palestinian Authority must first "accept its responsibility, and have the capability to be a source of stability and peace - for its own citizens, for the people of Israel, and for the whole region."
By contrast, in the same speech, President Bush simply called on Israel to "remove unauthorized outposts" and "end settlement expansion," not to withdraw from the much larger and more problematic settlements which have been authorized by the Israeli government despite that all Israelis settlements have been deemed illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention by four UN Security Council resolutions and a ruling by the International Court of Justice. Nor is there any mention of any other Israeli responsibilities under international law as specified by other outstanding UN Security Council resolutions, such as withdrawing from occupied Palestinian territory seized in the 1967 War, rescinding the annexation of greater East Jerusalem, or taking responsibility for a just resolution of the Palestinian refugee situation. Rejecting Amnesty's Calls
The Bush administration also ignored calls by Amnesty International that the conference establish measurable benchmarks requiring both Israelis and Palestinians "to halt and redress the grave human rights abuses and serious violations of international humanitarian law that continue to destroy lives on both sides." The United States continues to reject calls by Amnesty International and others to allow for the deployment of international human rights monitors and to live up to its responsibilities as a signatory of the Fourth Geneva Conventions and other international human rights treaties to use its influence to enforce international humanitarian law. The Bush administration has strongly backed calls by Amnesty and others that radical Palestinian groups end their attacks on Israeli civilians, but has refused to support similar calls that the Israeli armed forces end their attacks on Palestinian civilians.
Nor has the Bush administration acceded to calls by Amnesty and others to pressure Israel to release the thousands of Palestinian political prisoners not charged with terrorist offenses who are currently jailed, to end its demolitions of Palestinian homes, to end the blockade of humanitarian supplies to the Gaza Strip, and to honor its prior commitment to remove some of the 560 military checkpoints and blockades which prevent the movement of people and goods within the West Bank.
Despite the belated U.S. support for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, the bipartisan U.S. refusal to take seriously human rights and international law in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will make the emergence of a viable Palestinian state impossible and doom the peace process. For the reality is that Israeli security and Palestinian rights are not mutually exclusive, but mutually dependent upon the other. Until the United States recognizes that reality, there is no hope for peace.
Stephen Zunes is Middle East editor for Foreign Policy In Focus. He is a professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco and the author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism (Common Courage Press, 2003.)
© 2007 Foreign Policy In Focus