Next year we may be wiser

Posted in Other | 30-Nov-07 | Author: Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Kloc| Source: International Herald Tribune

President Bush stands on stage with Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the Israel-Palestinian Peace Conference at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, November 27, 2007.


Next year we may be wiser

Middle East peace-making has always nourished itself on hope: No peace hopes, no peace. But, says Shakespeare's Cressida in Troilus and Cressida: "To fear the worst oft cures the worse." For Cressida's 'worst,' read 'fear of a nuclear Iran.' For Cressida's 'worse,' read 'Palestinian-Israeli conflict.' That's what made Annapolis happen.

Could fear of war be more conducive to peace-making than hope of peace? A year from now we may be wiser: From Annapolis, Palestinians and Israelis are embarked on a peace process, December, 2008, their deadline. In contrast to previous fruitless peace drives, the peace-making is no more rooted in hope. In the Annapolis Process, fear is the great mover.

"Thanks for coming," President George W. Bush concluded his "The Day is Coming" address. It was not just customary American politeness. The president meant every single word of gratitude. For the first time in years, forces that would deny the Middle East hope - the region's God-fearing fear-mongers, Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Jewish settlers - find themselves up against a united front.

Since hope in peace died, both Arab protagonists of a settlement with Israel and Israeli protagonists of a settlement with the Palestinians have been on the defensive. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has already lost half of Palestine to Hamas in Gaza. And, he's losing ground on the West Bank. Palestinians fear for their very nationalism, already seriously eroded by the pincer forces of the Israeli occupation and a pan-Islamist ideology. Palestine faces an existential threat even before it exists.

Likewise, there's an existential fear in much of the Arab world, both of burgeoning radical Islam at home, and of a neighbor aiming to become nuclear. The consequences of inaction on peace are what they fear.

Bush was in deadly earnest when, last month, he warned of the threat of World War III, should Iran secure nuclear capability. He worries, he said, because Iran has threatened to destroy Israel.

Bush appears to have understood that it is the existential threat weighing on Israel that convinced Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to declare: "The reality created in our region in 1967 will change significantly. It will be an extremely difficult process for many of us. It is nevertheless inevitable. I know it. Many of my people know it. We are ready for it." Just as well.

In the end, Bush got them to Annapolis - Israelis, Palestinians, the Arab world - to begin to end the conflict. After years of the world vacillating between the rival concepts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict being the core of the Middle East problem or just a symptom, the alliance is finally getting it right: Resolving the conflict is absolutely central to abating the region's existential fears. But, Israel is not the existential threat, Iran is.

However, declarations of intention to conclude a peace deal go only so far. What is the Bush vision for keeping the process alive, keeping the alliance alive?

The onus he puts on Israel is blunt: Show the world you're ready to bring an end to the occupation. What the Palestinians and the Arab world do is less important than what they agree that Israel does. Bush has accepted Israel's argument that the Palestinians not only would not, but simply could not, deliver satisfactorily on security, that, on security, Israel can rely on itself alone.

In point of fact, the validity of Israel's security self-reliance is already accepted. When Israel deems its security jeopardized by actions from areas from which it has withdrawn, it asks permission from no one to act against such violations - either in the case of the legitimate (Israel-Lebanon) border, or of the de-facto (Israel-Gaza) border. When it acts, there's barely a peep of international protest, not even from Arab leaders. It is precisely this practice that needs tacit endorsement.

Reciprocity has always been the core principle of peace negotiations. Negotiation is, after all, the art of give-and-take.

Bush should contest that received wisdom. He needs to delineate new parameters in the relationship: Palestinians as sole recipients, Israelis as sole providers. The Palestinians - given freedom in their state on their land in full; Israel - receiving nothing, only tacit understanding that it can retain freedom of action to secure its security. Instead of "Land for Peace," the basis for any Annapolis accords should be "Freedom for Self-Defense" - even after a full withdrawal, even after a peace agreement, even after the end of the conflict - until Palestinians can really secure security.

In the end, this kind of Annapolis Process may yet be the best for peace.

Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler are Jerusalem-based reporters and documentary filmmakers.