Illustration by Nino Jose Heredia/Gulf News
The Annapolis spirit in action
By Adel Safty, Special to Gulf News
If we put aside diplomatic niceties and self-serving proclamations of an urgent need for peace and Israeli readiness to "make painful sacrifices" to achieve it, the Annapolis conference in fact confirmed the logic of war. The current Israeli assault on and collective punishment of the Palestinians in Gaza prove it.
Annapolis confirmed the logic of war because American and Israeli positions indicated that whatever negotiations take place between Israelis and Palestinians would not be within the context of justice and law, but overshadowed by the realities of power produced by the Israeli war machine.
The wrongdoer insists on imposing its terms on the victim as a condition of "peace". And Washington agrees; while those who represent the international community consensus on the conflict - such as the United Nations - are politely relegated to the insignificant status of observer. And Washington agrees.
In fact, at Annapolis, President George W. Bush confirmed - in disregard of the principles of justice and international law - his support for the Israeli position on two of the principal substantive issues of the conflict.
He repeated his support for the Israeli refusal to allow Palestinians expelled in 1948 to return to Israel - a gross injustice to the Palestinians.
He also repeated assurances given earlier to the Israelis to support their demand to keep some of the Palestinian land they seized by force in 1967 - a violation of the very preamble of UN Security Council Resolution 242 which confirms the inadmissibility in law of the acquisition of territories by force.
Bush also sided with the Israelis on the question of colonies by only referring to the outposts as illegal, but not the colonies themselves - universally considered by the international community as illegal.
In an advisory opinion in 2004 the International Court of Justice confirmed the illegality of the Israeli colonies in the occupied territories including East Jerusalem.
Strengthened by the knowledge that they have Washington's support to impose their terms and create more facts on the ground, Israeli leaders announced - shortly after Annapolis - plans to construct more colonies in the occupied Palestinian territories.
It is within this context of the realities of power and of the Israeli strategy of making them even more unfavourable to the victim that the recent assault on the Palestinians must be viewed.
The sealing off of Gaza and the cutting of power and petrol supplies have been condemned as likely to cause a humanitarian crisis and amounted to collective punishment of the civilian population - a clear violation of international law.
John Holmes, the UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, described the Israeli action as "unacceptable" and "morally unjustifiable".
The European Union urged Israel not to impose "collective punishment" against the Palestinian population in Gaza.
The Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem reported that in 2006 and 2007 the Israeli forces killed 816 Palestinians, including 152 minors, of whom 48 were children under the age of 14.
The head of the Israel Security Agency Yuval Diskin was quoted as telling the Israeli Cabinet that Israel had killed 1,000 "terrorists" in the Gaza Strip in the past two years - thus describing the victims, including innocent civilians, women and children, as "terrorists".
As in the past when peace threatens, Israeli leaders escalate the violence either to show that all Palestinians are terrorists who cannot be trusted and therefore not ready for peace, or to try to liquidate Palestinian nationalism by force as was tried in Lebanon in 1982.
The ferocity of the Israeli response to the actions of Hamas militantism and the collective punishment imposed on the 1.5 million Palestinians are not only grossly disproportionate responses, they are ineffective. And the Israelis know it.
Israel's Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai recently told Israel Radio that he did not expect the latest sanctions to halt rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that defence officials believed that the Palestinian fighters would intensify their attacks in response to the sanctions. Israeli actions, the paper reported, is "a new form of escalation" to prepare the grounds for a major assault on Gaza.
Israel's Defence Minister Ehud Barak is reported to have said a few weeks ago that Israel "is getting closer" to a major operation in Gaza.
The Israeli strategy for a possible agreement with the Palestinians is clear: If there is to be an agreement it must reflect the superior power of the conqueror, not the legitimate rights of the victim.
This reality is openly admitted and debated, framed differently to be sure but substantially unchanged.
For instance, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is reported to have sought additional support from Bush during the latter's recent visit to Israel.
The Israelis want a free hand in the West Bank during negotiations with the Palestinians to maintain constant pressure on their interlocutors. They also want Washington's support for the demilitarisation of the future Palestinian state and for Israel's right to monitor all border crossings.
They also want Bush's support for Israel's right to redeploy its troops in the future Palestinian state should the Israelis decide that there was a threat of invasion.
In other words they want a Palestinian state that is a vassal reoccupied at a moment's notice. Imagine if the Palestinians were to ask for reciprocity and insist on the same security guarantees; after all it is the Palestinians whose lives are shattered by Israeli violence, dispossession and collective punishment, who have more to fear from the Israelis.
The helplessness of the Palestinian position was already evident at Annapolis. In the face of the latest Israeli assault all the Palestinian leaders could do was to appeal to the international community to help stop "'the blazing destruction of Palestinian lives and property and a continuation of the Israeli policy of undermining the peace process".
Prof Adel Safty is author of From Camp David to the Gulf, Montreal, New York. His latest book, Leadership and Democracy, is published by IPSL Press, New York. 2004.