Annapolis – Road to Nowhere

, February 1, 2008

 The Jerusalem Viewpoints series is published by the Institute for Contemporary Affairs, founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation.

No. 561    25 Shvat 5768 / 1 February 2008

  • In the past, including under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, one often heard of concessions or compromises on the territories Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day War referred to as painful. According to Sharon, Israel was to give up something that was ours, not return something to which we have no right.
  • The Israeli government has in effect relented on the Roadmap demand that the Palestinians first stop all the violence and destroy the terrorist infrastructure. Yet if one should raise in this context the question of Israeli settlements, it will be difficult to convince most Israelis that building a house or a kindergarten should be equated with suicide bombings and the killing of women and children.
  • In an unimplementable “shelf agreement,” Israel will be seen to have committed itself to certain far-reaching steps that it has not implemented. On the one hand, this will be seen as the starting point for any future negotiations, and on the other hand, it will invite increasing pressure on Israel, with the added element of ongoing terror.
  • When Israel originally accepted the Roadmap, it was stipulated that there would be no negotiations on the permanent status of the West Bank and Gaza (Phases 2 and 3) until the Palestinians first fulfill their security commitments in accordance with Phase 1. If those pre-conditions for negotiations from 2003 have already melted away four years later, then why shouldn’t Annapolis pre-conditions for implementation of the “shelf agreement” melt away four years from now?
  • Wasn’t Annapolis touted primarily as a way to create an effective front against Iran? The U.S. National Intelligence Estimate published a few days after Annapolis made nonsense of that intention. In fact, one actually sees a rapprochement between Iran and those “moderate” Arab regimes, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

A Defining Moment?

There is a big question whether the Annapolis Conference held on November 27, 2007, should be seen as a “defining event” or even a “defining moment” in the political process between Israel and the Arab world and the Palestinians. It may have looked like a defining moment in the eyes of American policy-makers, but perhaps more in connection to other reasons – like Iraq, or domestic politics, or legacies – than to Arab-Israeli peace.

A few years ago there was a fierce debate, mainly in the U.S., about whether the road to Jerusalem led through Baghdad – or the other way around. In retrospect, both views were wrong – though perhaps had the U.S. been more successful in Iraq, the first assumption, the road to Jerusalem leading through Baghdad, might have been correct. Today, President George W. Bush still speaks about his determination to build on the Annapolis meeting as one of the pillars of his foreign policy. He spoke about a “peace agreement that defines a Palestinian state” being achieved in his January 28, 2008, State of the Union address.

President Bush’s visit to Israel earlier in January was welcomed by most Israelis, but with regard to Annapolis, there has been a considerable degree of skepticism about the administration’s approach from across the Israeli political spectrum. Anyway, President Bush has said he was not going to impose a timetable on the parties, perhaps with a reawakened sense of realism, and awareness of the unpopularity of both the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and also of the distinct possibility that by the end of the year Israel could be in the midst of elections.

Why Are Concessions “Painful”?

It is not necessary to dwell here on possible changes in attitude on the part of the Bush administration, but no less importantly, there has been a dramatic change, not always noticed, in official Israeli attitudes under the current government. In the past, including under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, one often heard of concessions or compromises on the territories Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day War referred to as painful, although as perhaps necessary political decisions. In other words, according to Sharon, Israel was to give up something that was ours, not return something to which we have no right. In contrast, the attitude of the current government has forgone with Israel’s basic moral, historic, or legal claims to the territories.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), at and before Annapolis, had raised all of the most extreme and unbending Palestinian demands, and the question is if this was intended merely for domestic Palestinian consumption, or whether, perhaps egged on by the Saudis, the Arab League and others, he believed that in view of the political weakness of the Israeli government and the overall aims of the U.S. in the region, there was actually a chance that Israel would be forced to accede to many of the Palestinian demands, and if not, be blamed for holding up the process.

If one looks back all the way to Oslo, one cannot escape the conclusion that Israeli compliance led not to more Palestinian compliance, but rather the other way around. This includes the “Roadmap,” in connection with which the Israeli government has in effect relented on the demand that the Palestinians stop all the violence and destroy the terrorist infrastructure. Yet if, as we are used to, one should raise in this context the question of Israeli settlements, it will be difficult to convince most Israelis that building a house or a kindergarten should be equated with suicide bombings and the killing of women and children.

There are more than a few views about Annapolis and its consequences, but, in general, one can point to at least the following reactions: those who don’t think that the necessary ingredients for peace, including suitable leaderships, are there yet; those on the Israeli side who oppose it for either ideological or pragmatic, especially security-linked, reasons; on the Palestinian side there are those, also for both ideological or pragmatic reasons, who have either not given up their dream of eliminating the Jewish state altogether; or those who doubt whether the proposed Palestinian mini-state has much of a chance to be “viable” or to survive in the long run.

The Importance of Process

Opposed to the above are the supporters of Annapolis, on both sides, including the not too many who genuinely believe that Annapolis has generated a process which could actually lead to peace at some time in the future, and others who are much less confident but for reasons often linked to domestic politics, especially in Israel but also in the Palestinian Authority and perhaps also with an eye towards Washington, will declare their undying support for it. On the Israeli side, if you fine-tune what Mr. Olmert says, this means in effect: what I really need is the process, the talks, not necessarily the outcome, so that I can present myself to the public as the leader who has to be kept in power in order to give peace a chance. And then there are those, maybe the majority, who say, “the talks don’t really matter one way or another, nothing will come out of them anyway.”

In the meantime, talks have started on the core issues – Jerusalem, refugees, borders, settlements – headed on the Israeli side by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and on the Palestinian side by Abu Ala. But even if there could hypothetically be agreement on all these points – which means, for instance, Abu Mazen declaring that the “right of return,” including UN General Assembly Resolution 194, is dead and buried, or recognizing Israel as the state of the Jewish people; or Olmert agreeing to withdraw completely to the “Green Line” and to divide Jerusalem, etc. – implementation is not imaginable under present circumstances.

Still, paradoxically, one cannot rule out altogether that, in spite of all this, by the end of this year the two sides – urged on or “steam-rolled” (as reportedly Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice so elegantly put it) by the U.S. – could indeed agree on a document which will include all sorts of references to some, though not all, of the so-called core issues, although almost nothing will or can be implemented. Actually, if you listen to Defense Minister Ehud Barak or even Prime Minister Olmert, that’s what they say.

Even less likely is there any possibility of implementation on the Palestinian side, for instance on the question of refugees. It is also a near certainty, in view of Hamas’ control of Gaza, that without the continued presence of the IDF and Israel’s other security organs in the West Bank, Hamas would take over there too.

A “Shelf Agreement” Will Be the Starting Point for Future Negotiations

The inevitable outcome of this scenario of an unimplementable paper agreement, however, will in all likelihood be that in the eyes not only of the Palestinians and the Arab world, but also in the rest of the world including the U.S., Israel will be seen to have committed itself to certain far-reaching steps that it has not implemented. On the one hand, this will be seen as the starting point for any future negotiations, and on the other hand, it will invite increasing pressure on Israel, with the added element of ongoing terror.

In other words, the scenario that the advocates of the Annapolis process have in mind is the completion of a “shelf agreement” – an Israeli-Palestinian accord that sits on a shelf and is pulled down at a later date when political conditions on the ground permit it to be implemented. The idea behind the “shelf agreement” is that the Fatah movement, armed with this new treaty, will supposedly be placed in a better position to draw Palestinians to its side of the political fence, and hence assist, theoretically, to strengthen Palestinian moderation.

In the meantime, Israel is supposed to be reassured that the “shelf agreement” will not be implemented until all of its security concerns are addressed through strict implementation of the first phases of the 2003 Roadmap for Peace.

In reality, this entire scenario is highly questionable in terms of its implementation, and is dangerous for Israel. For example, Israel should be extremely concerned that once it signs a “shelf agreement,” international pressures will grow for it to be implemented even before the Palestinians fulfill their Roadmap commitments in the area of security.

After all, when Israel originally accepted the 2003 Roadmap for Peace, it was stipulated that there would be no negotiations on the permanent status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, that appear in Phases 2 and 3, until the Palestinians first fulfill their security commitments in accordance with Phase 1 of the Roadmap. If those pre-conditions for negotiations from 2003 have already melted away four years later, then why shouldn’t Annapolis pre-conditions for implementation of the “shelf agreement” melt away four years from now?

Moreover, the “shelf agreement” will already affect the situation on the ground even before it is implemented. In the areas assigned to come under Palestinian sovereignty in the future, a struggle for influence will accelerate in anticipation of the coming vacuum, leading to more widespread clashes between Hamas and its competitors, as well as a diminution of any residual Israeli security-related authority. If Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad are today in power in Ramallah because Israeli forces are in a position to intervene in the event that Hamas tries an armed West Bank takeover, then what will happen to them if Israeli authority begins to erode even before the “shelf agreement” is officially implemented?

In any case, Israel already saw in the 1990s during the Oslo process that progress in the peace process did not automatically undercut the influence of Hamas and build up the strength of a moderate Fatah. Hamas in fact gained strength because Fatah looked increasingly corrupt to many Palestinians. Today, Fatah is still viewed the same way and, in addition, it has become a highly fragmented organization, with multiple centers of power. In short, Fatah is not in a strong position to displace Hamas, Annapolis notwithstanding. And segments of Fatah are still involved in terrorism against Israel, in any case. Nor, it should be remembered, are Abbas’ views all that different from those of Yasser Arafat.

The De-Facto Peace Option

In other words, the emergence of an Israeli-Palestinian “shelf agreement” does not mean peace. Conversely, de-facto peace can be achieved under certain circumstances, even on a long-term basis, without a final, comprehensive written agreement, and there have been examples of both all through history. A real, permanent peace agreement must have the support of a substantial majority on both sides – and this is not the case today. What the late Moshe Dayan said almost thirty years ago still holds true: it will be difficult to have a written document that both Israelis and Palestinians can live with.

What’s more, such a virtual peace may abort or at least delay possible concrete progress, including in the economic sphere, which could eventually create an environment of real, as opposed to virtual, peace – and make it clearer to Israelis and Palestinians what and how Palestinian self-governance could actually look like.

The Paris donors’ conference could have been a positive development in this connection, but it remains to be seen if it will promote real economic ventures, primarily through the private sector, or if, once again, it will just be subsidizing the Palestinian Authority with all that this incurs – waste, inefficiency, corruption – everything but an improvement in the economic situation of the Palestinian population. The very term “donor’s” conference was wrong – it should have been called a business or economic conference.

If one wants to be practical, several supposedly axiomatic premises should also be looked at anew. One is that “everyone knows what the solution will look like” – really? Or that “unless a two-state solution is quickly arrived at, Israel will cease to exist as a Jewish state.” There will have to be disconnection of some sort (the exact term is unimportant), but there could be more than one way to arrive at it. Statehood is one option, in the eyes of many perhaps the only option, but options – unless they are backdated – by definition are something to be exercised in the future, and only if the price is right.

What Happened to the Annapolis Anti-Iran Coalition?

We have short memories, but wasn’t Annapolis touted, including in Israel, primarily as a way to create an effective front against Iran? The U.S. National Intelligence Estimate published a few days after Annapolis made nonsense of that intention. In fact, in the last few weeks one actually sees a rapprochement between Iran and those “moderate” Arab regimes, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

It should be clear that Iran is still the paramount concern, but using it as a pretext in the Israeli-Palestinian equation is not helpful, either in confronting Iran’s ambitions or in trying to promote peace between Israel and the Arab world. Realistically, if Israel is pressured to implement a “shelf agreement” that strips it of defensible borders and compromises its position in Jerusalem, then the strategic outcome of such a situation will actually serve the interests of Hamas and Iran who will be better positioned to exploit Israel’s new vulnerabilities. Indeed, Israel’s 2005 disengagement from Gaza was also touted as an initiative that would strengthen moderation, but it led to a Hamas takeover and to the entry of Iranian-trained Palestinian terrorists into the Gaza area. In fact, Hamas is now adopting many aspects of the military organization of Iranian-backed Hizbullah.

In any event, Bush’s meeting with the Saudi leadership doesn’t look to have been too successful – not with regard to oil prices and not with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. This supposed “coalition of moderates” has not brought about a more moderate stance with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. In fact, it may mean the opposite, namely, an effort to show Arab, including Palestinian, public opinion that not only are those “moderates” as tough on Israel as the best of them, including Iran, but contrary to them, more effective, perhaps with the help of the U.S., in forcing Israel to make concessions.

As Bloomberg’s Janine Zacharia, accompanying President Bush on his visit to Riyadh, reported, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal has said that his country wouldn’t normalize ties with Israel, while another senior Saudi official, Prince Turki al-Faisal, offered Israel “cooperation,” but only if it withdrew “from all occupied Arab territories.” He also superciliously said that Arabs “would start thinking of Israelis as Arab Jews(!) and agree to the “integration of Israel into the Arab geographical entity.”

*     *     *

Zalman Shoval, a member of the Board of Overseers of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, served as Israel’s Ambassador to the United States from 1990 to 1993 and from 1998 to 2000. A veteran member of Israel’s Knesset (1970-1981, 1988-1990), Ambassador Shoval was a senior aide to the late Moshe Dayan during his tenure as foreign minister in the Begin government, including during the first Camp David conference. He is currently head of the Foreign Relations Department of the Likud party.

Zalman Shoval

Zalman Shoval, a member of the Board of Overseers of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, served as Israel's Ambassador to the United States from 1990 to 1993 and from 1998 to 2000. A veteran member of Israel's Knesset (1970-1981, 1988-1990), Ambassador Shoval was a senior aide to the late Moshe Dayan during his tenure as foreign minister in the Begin government.