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Morris J. Amitay


Column for October, 2007



“The Conference to Nowhere”



If there was ever a more ignominious example of the “triumph of hope over experience,” it has to be the upcoming November “peace conference” in Annapolis.  Why does this strike one as déjà vu all over again?  I may be showing my age, but the first speech I ever wrote for a U.S. Senator was in January, 1970.  It was a reasoned rebuttal of the long forgotten “Rogers Plan” of December 9, 1969.  The parameters for a settlement outlined by the then Secretary of State look suspiciously like the proposals being considered now by another administration almost thirty-nine years later.  Then, Israel was being asked to surrender territory vital to its security to hostile neighbors in return for vague assurances of peaceful intent.  What a deal!  Today it’s basically the same, but only with (some of) the Palestinians.   Then, the leaders of Jordan, Egypt, and Syria had control over their countries, today Abbas barely represents some of the Palestinians in the West Bank. 


Given the Olmert Government’s apparent willingness to “take risks for peace” and make “painful compromises”, this might be a cause for genuine concern for Israel’s future.  But the odds favor the Palestinians remaining true to form and once more blowing it, thereby demonstrating that the Palestinians “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”.  Our Israeli friends should then be able to breathe a sigh of relief, even though in certain quarters they might be blamed for not offering enough.  The sad fact remains that the Palestinian leadership has simply not prepared its people for peace and coexistence.  Abundant proof of this is readily found in both Hamas and Palestinian Authority-published textbooks, public statements (in Arabic), incitement in the media, and toleration and encouragement of terrorist attacks.  While Israel seems to always be making more “goodwill gestures” to the Palestinians – releasing terrorists, abandoning checkpoints, supplying services that should be provided by the PA, and releasing funds – can anyone cite any “goodwill” gestures toward Israel from the Palestinians?  Or, for that matter, what is the record of Palestinian compliance with past agreements regarding collection of arms and clamping down on terrorism?  Just recently Palestinian security personnel who plotted to kill Prime Minister Olmert were only briefly arrested before being released.


Certainly, mild-mannered Mahmoud Abbas is a more attractive and welcome interlocutor than the repulsive pistol-toting Arafat.  But while Arafat was able to call the shots for almost all the Palestinians, Abbas is a leader with scant following and little control over even Fatah’s militant factions.  It isn’t only Hamas with which he is at odds, but the PLO’s Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades and other assorted jihadists.  Despite a belated crackdown on Hamas activists in the West Bank, a strong core of opposition remains.  Even ascribing the best of peaceful intentions to Abbas, given this reality on the ground, what is the value of his signature on a piece of paper?


Secretary Rice, in a desperate attempt to create a legacy by brokering a peace between Israel and the Palestinians, undoubtedly has the full support of her State Department.  The guiding philosophy at Foggy Bottom is that all disputes and world problems can be resolved through “negotiations” – even if, as in this case, only one side is being asked to make any real concessions.  Without a formidable adversary in place in her former position as National Security Advisor, and with the Vice-President weakened by his vilification by the liberal media, Rice is in a position to exert considerable pressure on Israel.  And as we have seen, any further concessions made by Israel would only be the starting point for any future negotiations, after the current effort fails. 



If, back in 1993 Arafat could proclaim that the Oslo Agreement was “the peace of the brave”, Annapolis should be more fittingly described as “the peace of the weak”.  Abbas has not only lost Gaza, and its 1.2 million inhabitants to Hamas, but he does not even have control over a major West Bank city like Jenin, and other portions of the West Bank.  He is the President in name only.  The Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade openly defies his wishes, and the Palestinian security forces nominally under his command are mostly a motley crew lacking motivation and effective leadership despite American efforts to train and arm them.  The bottom line here is that even if Abbas had the will to do so, he simply cannot deliver.  While P.M. Olmert is not quite in the same unenviable position, according to all polls Prime Minister Olmert’s own approval ratings remain dismal, even with the slight jump in his poll numbers generated by the news of his prostate cancer.


Given that so many of the “red lines” Israel has previously put down in the past have been crossed, there are still limits as to how far it can gamble on its own security.  It is difficult to imagine Israel abandoning its bedrock security interests in order to accommodate Condi’s quixotic pursuit for agreements on final status issues – borders, settlements, Jerusalem, refugees, and limitations on forces.  No matter how desperately she will seek to achieve progress, Rice’s initiative is doomed to fail, as the stars are simply not correctly aligned.  There is just too large a gap between Israel’s desire for a real peace, and the Palestinians’ desire for the end of Israel.


People of good will always seek to “keep hope alive”, but reality trumps hope any day. This applies in dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict as we have witnessed the past sixty years.  That is why the gathering in Annapolis promises to be an exercise in futility, and truly a conference to nowhere.


Morrie Amitay, a Washington attorney, is a former Executive Director of AIPAC and founder of the pro-Israel Washington PAC (