I’ve been meaning to post this for a while now, but the Annapolis Conference/
Meeting/whatever-you want-to-call-it finally happened yesterday. Both Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (also known as Abu Mazen) pledged to negotiate an agreement to end the Israel-Palestinian conflict by the end of 2008. They even shook hands.
I’m skeptical. First of all, weak leaders cannot make concessions and stay in power, only strong leaders have the political capital to do so. Neither Olmert nor Abbas are strong leaders. Abbas has lost control of Gaza to Hamas, and only has tenuous control of the West Bank. (As a side note, Abbas is universally hailed as a moderate but is also a Holocaust denier. Until recently I thought that “Moderate” and “Holocaust denier” were mutually exclusive, I guess not.)
Meanwhile, Olmert’s popularity sank after the 2006 War in Lebanon (which most see as botched), he’s under investigation in a number of corruption probes, and is so unpopular he can only envy Bush’s 28% approval rating. Neither leader can afford to make unpopular decisions and hold on to power, but most importantly, the decisions would not be seen as legitimate.
Let’s take a look at some of the issues from the Israeli side.
Israeli Settlements in the West Bank. The settlements and outposts (illegal settlements) give Israel a terrible image abroad and inflame Palestinians. Nevertheless, the settlers have huge lobbying power in the Israeli government (akin to the NRA’s power). Olmert should at the very least suspend the building of all new settlements. But if he were to do just that his parliamentary coalition would fall apart.
Then there's the Palestinian Right of Return. This is a HUGE stumbling block, much more so than most people think. About 800,000 Palestinians were displaced after the 1948 Israeli War of Independence. There are presently over 3 million descendants of these refugees (mostly living in Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon) and they are a cause-celebré among the European Left. What is often times forgotten is that these people were displaced during a war their leaders in fact initiated. But forgetting that for the moment, the problem is that the Palestinians are demanding the descendants of these 800,000 refugees have the “Right of Return” into Israel.
This is unfeasible for Israel and furthermore is contradictory to the Two State Solution. The Two State solution provides for a Jewish-Israeli state, and a Palestinian-Arab state. Each side would give up whatever claim it believes it may have to the other’s land. So, each side would have Right of Return to their own land; no Palestinian would have Right of Return to Israel because they’ve given up claim to it.
Next up is “the Wall/Security Barrier,” what Jimmy Carter and others see as a symbol of “Apartheid.” I disagree. The security barrier was actually an idea of the Israeli Left and the Israelis began constructing it in 2002 as a response to the second Intifada. Now, one could certainly argue that it should be constructed along the Green Line and not cut deep into Palestinian territory, but without a doubt the barrier saves lives. It prevents Palestinian terrorists from infiltrating Israel and blowing themselves up in buses and pizzerias, which in turn prevents the Israeli military from invading the West Bank to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure - as happened in 2002 with a lot of collateral damage.
Anyway, you can agree or disagree but you know where I stand. I’ll add more about the whole thing later, if you’re really interested in the conflict I encourage you to read articles from Bitter Lemons. This website presents the thoughts and analyses of journalists, intellectuals, policy figures, and others from both sides of the conflict. It’s a forum for discussion and ideas, rather than negotiation.