Bush’s Parting Gift
The body of UN Security Council Resolution 1850 avoids any meaningful mention of a two-state solution or the creation of a Palestinian state with the exception of a feeble reference late in the text — added almost as an afterthought — to "preparation for statehood". While the preamble does mention Resolution 1514, issued five years ago, and notes that "lasting peace can only be based on an enduring commitment to mutual recognition, freedom from violence, incitement, and terror, and the two-state solution, building upon previous agreements and obligations," and even notes "the importance of the Arab peace initiative of 2002" the seven articles of the resolution, adopted on 16 December, focus on committing all parties to continuing an endless peace process.
The outgoing US president "personally" sponsored Resolution 1850, which on the surface was intended to placate Palestinian negotiators before Bush’s meeting with President Mahmoud Abbas on 19 December. Bush has failed to fulfil his twice-made promise to usher in a Palestinian state, once by the end of 2005 and the second time by the end of this year. The resolution was intended to ensure Palestinian negotiators remain committed to the "Annapolis process" in which Bush’s failure to produce positive results is no less dismal than his failure to fulfil his promises to the Palestinian president by means of securing a UN rubber stamp on the process. The UN’s backing of the Annapolis process is supposed to preempt any attempt to wriggle out of it on the part of a new Israeli government. According to recent opinion polls, the most likely victor will be Likud leader Benyamin Netanyahu, who has made no secret of his opposition to the Annapolis process and vision. But as its record amply demonstrates Israel has never respected UN resolutions, confident that regardless how grossly it abuses them it will enjoy the backing of Washington.
Israel’s unreserved welcome of the resolution betrays the fact that this gesture, ostensibly in favour of the Palestinian negotiators, is in essence a parting gift from Bush to the Israeli occupying power. The Israeli Foreign Ministry statement lauded the Security Council for having "endorsed, for the first time, the three Quartet principles as the basis for international legitimacy and support for any Palestinian government". The resolution was an expression of the council’s "unequivocal support for direct bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, in the framework of the Annapolis process, in accordance with principles agreed by the parties themselves and represented to the Quartet, including the principle that any agreement will be subject to roadmap implementation, which requires first and foremost the dismantling of the terror infrastructure". By "terrorist infrastructure", of course, the statement means the Palestinian resistance. It should also be borne in mind that Israel’s agreement to the roadmap comes with a codicil of 14 "reservations" approved by Washington in Bush’s notorious letter to Ariel Sharon of 14 April 2004, and which the Palestinians have dubbed "the second Balfour declaration". No surprise, therefore, at the Foreign Ministry’s barely restrained jubilation at what it described as "an unequivocal message to the Hamas terrorist regime in Gaza" and the Security Council’s "endorsement of core Israeli principles for the peace process".
The statement also included Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s comment on the resolution: "Today’s Security Council resolution constitutes international endorsement for the Annapolis process in keeping with the guiding principles established by the parties, namely: direct bilateral negotiations between the parties, without international intervention, and according to the principle that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, a commitment to the Quartet principles — recognising Israel, ending terror and accepting former agreements — as well as conditioning implementation of any future agreement on the implementation of the roadmap." She adds, pointedly, "the Security Council’s clear support is a vote of confidence in the process that Israel is advancing with the legitimate Palestinian leadership and that has no substitute."
Meanwhile, Palestinian negotiators found nothing in the resolution clear enough to warrant a warm official welcome. They therefore restricted themselves to generalities and ambiguities in the hope of disguising the peril looming over the Palestinian cause from the UN’s decision to confer legitimacy on the Annapolis project, which is intended to prolong and exacerbate Palestinian rifts. The resolution simultaneously imperils what the Palestinian president has called the PLO’s "national project" because it renders that project, the PLO and the PA, dependent upon a peace process that has been stunted in substance but the duration of which remains open. It is difficult to see such a process achieving any progress, all the more so since the UN resolution did not invoke Article 7 of the UN Charter, which would have made it binding on all parties. The most PA officials could come up with was that the resolution was "encouraging".
The only possible interpretation of this welcome (which was not shared by important Fatah and PLO leaders such as Farouk Qadoumi and Taysir Qubaa) is that the Fatah leadership has seized upon the Security Council’s "commitment to the irreversibility of the bilateral negotiations" that began in Annapolis on 27 November 2007 (Resolution 1850, Article 1) as a potential weapon to wield in the face of its rival in the national rift and as a means to press forward with a negotiating agenda that is rejected by Hamas and other major factions in the PLO, as well as by the majority of Palestinians according to polls conducted by research centres in Ramallah, Nablus and Bethlehem. Bush’s farewell gift to Israel thus promises to become another obstacle to add to already existing domestic obstacles to any successful national dialogue.
In order to better appreciate the price the Palestinians will pay for continuing with the Annapolis process and the roadmap it might be useful to cite US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s remarks to the Security Council in defence of the resolution: "Reforms in the Palestinian Authority in 2003 had inspired hope, yet they had proved to be superficial, and the hope deceptive." (Does anyone out there remember that Arafat was PA president at the time?) "The Palestinian elections in January 2005 and the Israeli disengagement from Gaza later that year had provided hope that had soon been ended by the election victory of Hamas in 2006. Finally, after Hamas had usurped power in Gaza in 2007, it had become clear to all that there was no alternative to the Bush vision."
Rice’s disregard of the Palestinian people’s right to choose their leaders, her declaration from the most important international forum that elimination of Arafat and, now, Hamas, is the price the Palestinians have to pay to achieve her president’s utopian vision, recalls the arrogance her president displayed six years ago. On 4 June 2002, at the height of Israeli incursions into PA territory which culminated in the siege on Arafat’s compound and eventually his death, Bush called for a new Palestinian leadership and declared, "When the Palestinian people get a new leadership, new institutions, and new security arrangements with their neighbours [he meant the Israelis of course, not the Arabs], the US will support the creation of a Palestinian state."
This is recent history. When we place Resolution 1850 in its context, we can better appreciate how generous a gift Bush left Israel.
NICOLA NASSER is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit of the Israeli – occupied Palestinian West Bank.