"After meeting their own low expectations for the Annapolis conference amid intense skepticism, Bush administration officials crowed with delight," said an Associated Press story.
And well they might. It was more symbolism than substance, but President Bush looked almost presidential.
But all Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert really agreed on was to negotiate -- Bush called it "hard bargaining."
"Hard bargaining" with Olmert and Abbas (and Bush too) at record low levels of support domestically?
"Hard bargaining" with the overwhelming power of the United States and Israel on one side and the divided and bloodied Palestinians on the other?
The United States is not an honest broker here. Congress just gave Israel another $30 billion for military aid over the next 10 years. That's on top of the $3 billion to $5 billion annually it already gets.
Since 2004, Bush has officially committed the United States to help Israel keep Palestinian land stolen for Jewish settlements. This policy of using "facts on the ground" to gobble up Palestinian land, water and commerce has already sparked two Palestinian uprisings and is destroying the viability of any independent Palestinian state.
Was this policy reversed at Annapolis? No. Instead Bush asked Israel to pretty-please remove a few trailer park "outposts" and to stop expanding the settlements. (Wink, wink.)
Bush instructed the Palestinians not to focus on the "borders" of a state. No wonder -- Israel has already set the borders by constructing the annexation wall deep inside Palestinian territory, leaving the Palestinians imprisoned in a handful of poverty-stricken ghettos on a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of their original homeland.
What's next, a virtual Palestinian state?
Bush told Palestinians to focus on the "nature" of their state instead. It should be "democratic." Oh really? The United States and Israel have starved and bludgeoned the Palestinians for having elected the wrong people, and then invited Abbas (who overthrew the elected government) to Annapolis.
Bush hailed the "transparency and accountability" of the Abbas regime. These are the same crooks who were thrown out of office for shamelessly lining their pockets with the meager contents of the Palestinian treasury.
Bush and Olmert seek a puppet regime that will pick up the garbage and police the prison-statelets that are all Palestinians can expect from this "hard bargaining."
This is why the Abbas-Olmert agreement gives the United States (and thus Israel) a veto over any results, stating that implementation of the agreement will be "led by the United States" and "judged by the United States."
Completely absent, in spite of pleas from Palestinian human rights groups, was any mention of international law, which long ago laid down two unavoidable conditions for peace: the return of all Palestinian (and Syrian) territory taken by force in 1967, including removal of the colonial settler infrastructure, and a just solution for the millions of Palestinians driven from their homeland since 1948.
Bush's U.S.-Israel-Palestine bargaining process aims to circumvent this painful reality. Behind a fig leaf of endless negotiations, Israel will push ordinary Palestinians further into poverty and repression. Many will leave in order to survive. Those who remain face a grotesque form of apartheid, whose structure is already in place and whose foundation was laid by the logic of creating a "Jewish state" in a country populated mainly by others. Indeed, many Israelis openly hope that even so-called "Israeli Arabs" -- Palestinians who stayed in 1948 and are now 20 percent of the citizenry -- will be forcibly transferred to the new "Palestinian state."
If you want to see the reality obscured by the lofty language of politicians, visit the concentration camp that is Gaza, invisible at Annapolis. Smell the stench of raw sewage and uncollected garbage. Listen to the cries of hungry children and watch sick people die from Israel cutting the electricity or the embargo on medicine or from waiting too long at the perpetually sealed borders. Watch women screaming over the bodies of children and husbands torn apart by Israeli bombardment or vicious fighting among rival gangs of camp inmates.
The original online transcript of Bush's Annapolis speech referred to the "Iraqi soil of the West Bank and Gaza." Official versions corrected this to "rocky soil." But the cruel irony of this Freudian slip remains. Iraq certainly does resemble Gaza, with the West Bank close behind. This is not a path to peace.
Barb Olson and Amal Othman are members of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project.
© 2007 Capital Newspapers