Surreal in Annapolis

Doing some reality testing.

David Bedein

OpEds לבן ריק
לבן ריק
credit David Michael Cohen
Hundreds of reporters arrived at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis from around the US and, indeed, from around the world on Tuesday, in order to cover a one-day Middle East summit, which kicked off a new negotiation process between Israel and the Palestinian
Bush was asking Israel to negotiate with the PA, come what may.

Fifty nations were invited to witness the process. After exhaustive security checks, reporters, myself among them, were ushered into the US Naval Academy basketball stadium where they waited two hours to cast their eyes on a large-scale screen. The press corps watched and observed George Bush, Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas give speeches launching negotiations that will continue throughout the year 2008. Only an elite few reporters were allowed anywhere near the three leaders as they exchanged platitudes of peace.

President Bush set the tone and framework for negotiations, saying that Abbas and Olmert would conduct bi-weekly negotiations beginning on December 12. When there are disputes, President Bush declared, the US would be the "judge" as to who was correct.

The president invoked the Road Map of April 30, 2003, specifically mentioning the precise date and guiding spirit of the negotiations. Bush’s mention of April 30 as the date of the Road Map conveyed a subtle message to the Israeli government, which had added 14 reservations on May 25, 2003. Almost all of those reservations demanded that the Palestinian Authority take full responsibility for disarming all terror groups before proceeding with negotiations. In other words, Bush was asking Israel to negotiate with the PA, come what may, by invoking the Road Map of April 30 rather than the Road Map that Israel had ratified on May 25, with strings attached.

In order to do some reality testing, I asked US State Department officials present at the basketball stadium if Abbas would indeed be required to disarm and disband the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the terrorist organization that remains an integral part f the Fatah and that continues terror actions unabated. The officials would not answer the question, even though the Al-Aqsa Brigades remains on the US State Department list of terrorist organizations.

Concerning another major issue where the US would be "the judge" of matters in dispute, the Bulletin asked US State Department officials what their position was concerning the Palestinian curriculum, which the Israeli Ministry of Defense had concluded was rife with anti-Semitic incitement. The curriculum erased Israel from the map and denied any connection of the Jews or Judaism to the land of Israel (see the Bulletin article from August 28, 2006, "Palestinian Curriculum: Erasing Israel"). US State Department officials looked into the matter and said that they had taken no stand on the issue. However, US AID, a powerful arm of US foreign policy that renders financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority and to other foreign entities, recently distributed a report on Capitol Hill asserting that the PA had deleted such incitement from their curriculum.

Hence, US "judgment" on such crucial policy differences between Israel and the Palestinian Authority show that the US can easily ignore facts on the ground and simply expedite the Palestinian position.

At the stadium, reporters were not allowed to publicly air any questions of Abbas, Olmert or Bush. After the screen rolled up, reporters busied themselves with details of what they had seen and heard. Not one reporter raised the issue of why no public questions were permitted.

The one commitment that Olmert made before the conference was that he would stand by the principle of Israel as a Jewish state. After all, the Voice of Palestine Radio, operating under the open and direct sponsorship of Abbas and the PA Ministry of Communications, chose to broadcast the weekly sermon from the Temple Mount on Friday, November 23,
The US can easily ignore facts on the ground and simply expedite the Palestinian position.
in which the cleric, also chosen by the PA, declared:

"Israel has already laid many obstacles in the negotiations prior to the conference so it can shake off any kind of commitment in the future.... Israel wants to be recognized as a Jewish state. Unfortunately, this request did not receive the appropriate attention from the Arab League and the Islamic Conference Organization.

"If this request is granted and Israel is recognized as a Jewish state, then there will be no withdrawal to 1967 borders, no partition of Jerusalem and no deportation of the Israeli settlers. This is a serious danger to the Palestinian people and it confirms the Balfour statement from 1917. This consolidates with the Zionist ideology and with the Bible that presents Palestine as the 'promised land' and the Jews as the chosen nation of God. Israel's request to be recognized as a Jewish state confirms that they are a racist regime and speeds the immigration of Jews from around the world to Israel....

"The effects on the Palestinians will be vast, if this request is granted. The 1948 refugees will not be allowed to return to their homes and there will be a revival of the calls to deport the Palestinians from the 1948 occupied territories. Jerusalem will become more Jewish, demographically, politically and religiously, with the support of the US, which views Jerusalem as the capital of the Israeli state. In addition, the lives of the Palestinians in Jerusalem will become even harder than they already are."

Olmert responded to this with a clear, laconic call for two states for two peoples.