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Two Ships Passing in the Dark?

The Meaning of Annapolis

by Col. DAN SMITH

"An occupying army cannot expect to find friendsbut [it must] give the uninvolved population every opportunity to have some kind of a quality of life."

MGEN Yair Naveh (Ret.), Israeli Defense Force, Defense News

Last week, as participants in the latest international peace conference on Israel- Palestine prepared to wend their way to Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, in Tel Aviv senior Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) officials were wrapping up a three-day headquarters exercise focusing on urban terror. Media reports said the drill was the largest in eight years to test reactions to and prevention of terror incidents.

The IDF "won" the exercise, which should have heartened Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert after the debacle in summer 2006 when Hezbollah stood its ground in southern Lebanon against attempts by the IDF to break the back of the U.S. – designated terror organization. Nonetheless, "unidentified sources" who participated in the drill concluded–again–that this type of warfare is extremely costly, people-intensive, and highly interactive with the local population.

Albeit unstated, the results also pointed to the need for political, economic, and environmental action to reduce and if possible eliminate the causes of terror.

Such results, if they were conveyed to Prime Minister Olmert, would have been in line with his state of mind as he prepared for Annapolis. On November 4, he spoke publicly about the coming summit, invoking the memory of Yitzhak Rabin whose courageous steps in the 1990s toward finding a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians was cut short by an Israeli settler’s bullets.

Olmert also spoke of Bill Clinton’s 2000 summer-autumn effort to find a breakthrough–which collapsed, and even of Ariel Sharon’s 2005 unilateral "Disengagement" plan. In the end, Olmert said the goal must be "two states for two peoples" and that he would not entertain any negotiation about "the right of existence for the State of Israel as a Jewish state."

This phraseology was picked up by President Bush in his opening remarks at Annapolis: "This settlement will establish Palestine as the Palestinian homeland, just as Israel is the homeland for the Jewish people." And again moments later Bush reiterated the formula: "And the United States will keep its commitment to the security of Israel as a Jewish state and homeland for the Jewish people."

This emphasis strikes me as unwarranted and unnecessarily divisive — almost amounting to a pre-condition. Palestinians as a whole probably don’t care whether Israel deems itself a Jewish state; their interest is in attaining their own viable, independent, and sustainable homeland.

In his remarks, President Bush read the text of the agreement struck between Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The agreement declares that the two parties will attempt to "conclude a peace treaty resolving all outstanding issues including all core issues without exception." Tellingly, the agreement makes no mention of any of the three "core issues": borders, right of return, and the status of Jerusalem.

Perhaps the most telling remark from Bush, one which indicates just how much of an uphill fight Abbas faces in the coming months, was on the core issue of borders: ‘Palestinians must show the world that they understand that, while the borders of a Palestinian state are important, the nature of a Palestinian state is just as important."

For Olmert, what he did not say was as telling as what was said. While he mentioned Jerusalem twice, neither context was the present or the future. Olmert pledged the Israeli negotiators "will not avoid any subject [and] will deal with all the core issues." He speaks of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, but not UN General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution 194 (December 1948) which speaks of Jerusalem as an international city and of the return of refugees who could be either Palestinians or Israelis who had fled the warfare that engulfed present day Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.

Although the text of UNGA Resolution 194 does not specify a "right" of return, Israelis do not see it as relevant–a position at odds with the Palestinians. From the Palestinian perspective, too much reliance on UNGA 194 as the basis for a "right of return" could backfire when the issue is the status of Jerusalem whose "eastern" part Abbas wants for the capital of the new Palestinian State but which Olmert may not be able or willing (or both) to cede any more than he could make it an international city.

Abbas, who spoke after Bush and before Olmert, voiced the bottom line for the Palestinians: "I must defendthe right of our people to see a new dawn, without occupation, without settlement, without a separations walls, without prisonswithout assassinations, without siege, without barriers around villages."

These are the agonies endured for six decades by Palestinians at the hands of Israelis as well as, somewhat surprisingly, at the hands of fellow-Arab neighbors. Deftly, Abbas turns the recitation of these failures into a mirror that he holds up to Israelis to show them how "occupation" — "our [Palestinian] holocaust that has been running for too long"–has changed Israel and those who live therein. (It is something George Bush should note.)

I wish both sides success.

Col. DAN SMITH is a military affairs analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus , a retired U.S. Army colonel, and a senior fellow on military affairs at the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Email at dan@fcnl.org.