Tuesday, March 01, 2005


Foreign powers and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

In the news today is Tony Blair's meeting with Mahmud Abbas, Kofi Annan, Condoleezza Rice, and some other folks. I honestly cannot see much in this meeting, other than the continued decision by the Israelis to avoid any serious negotiating toward a permanent settlement with the Palestinians. The Israelis were not involved, in fact refusing to participate, though Blair made sure to praise Israel's "courage" in putting forth a plan to withdraw settlers from the Gaza Strip. Also today, the International Crisis Group released a report on "Disengagement and After: Where Next for Sharon and the Likud?" (It is available in pdf format and as a word document.) The report describes the reasons that Sharon's disengagement plan will continue unilaterally despite the "renewed peace process" or prospects thereof:
In reality, while Sharon's initiative is of recent vintage, its unilateral aspect is rooted in three interconnected core beliefs which explain why it is likely to survive Arafat's passing and Abu Mazen's advent. The first, as seen, is his desire to assert control over the diplomatic process, taking the initiative to preclude it being taken by others. By acting unilaterally, he believes, he was able to extract commitments from the U.S. on the shape of a final settlement that would have been far harder to obtain in the context of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The second is his long-standing and deep-seated distrust of negotiated agreements with Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular. The third, and most crucial, is his belief that there is no prospect of ending the conflict with the Palestinians any time soon, regardless of who is at their head. Certainly, he cannot imagine ending it on terms he could accept; as for the terms contemplated by Clinton, in Geneva, or indeed by much of the international community, he is not prepared to accept them (in particular with regard to East Jerusalem and the scope of Israel's withdrawal from the West Bank), and he appears convinced they would become a recipe for further instability.
The key here is that the international community (and the Palestinians essentially depend on the international commitment to the consensus that has been spelled out in UN resolutions, etc. That is, ending the occupation of lands conquered by Israel in 1967) is much more willing to shift it's standards, or this is how Sharon perceives it. It is not going to shift overnight, nor is it going to shift if it is asked to shift too far. The ICG report quotes an Israeli analyst as follows:
Sharon is actively lowering expectations, seeking to convince all parties -- not least the international community and the Palestinians -- that he will agree to far less than what was on the table at Camp David and Taba, assuming that this will serve him when he surprises with concessions that are only slightly below that. His 'generosity' could be a vital component of his plan.
His ability to substantively shift the expectations of the Palestinians is doubtful. But the international community is a different subject. The relationship with Egypt is exemplative. And most countries will have a much easier time than Egypt, given the sentiments of many Egyptians.

The issue that is going to most shape the future of the Palestinians is the wall, which effectively annexes all of Jerusalem, the areas surrounding it, and parts of the West Bank. The Palestinians have not helped themselves in the meantime. They won a very powerful opinion in the International Court of Justice, but what have they done with it? They've wasted too much time and the wall may be fully built (now that the route has been passed by the Israeli cabinet) before there is an organized Palestinian approach to defeating it.

They can meet with Tony Blair, but only if the Israelis are not involved. They cannot talk about anything with him other than reforms in the PA. There can be no criticism of Israel, only praise of their "courage." And Blair talks about peace not because of Palestinian rights, justice for the Palestinians, upholding international law. No, it is important because:
the Palestinian struggle was probably the most "used and abused" grievance by extremists.
And so the international community has drifted further and further of this idea of international law and human rights and all this. And that's why it is so much easier for Sharon to negotiate with them, especially Bush, and to leave the Palestinians to meet separately to discuss reform in the PA.

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