Revolution#112, December 16, 2007

From A World to Win News Service

Annapolis—a Short Balance Sheet

December 3, 2007. A World to Win News Service. What did the Annapolis conference on Israel and the Palestinians accomplish?

First, the U.S. publicly declared sole ownership of the issue. Until now, the Road Map—a plan for a powerless Palestinian “mini-state” under the shadow of the towering Israeli behemoth—has been associated with four “players”: the U.S., Europe, UN and Russia. The demise of the Quartet became clear a few days afterward, when the U.S. introduced—and then suddenly withdrew—a resolution in the UN Security Council endorsing the Annapolis conference and its agreements. This overnight reversal had nothing to do with the resolution’s content. Rather it reflected a shift for the U.S., which used to seek the cooperation of other powers and institutions in the pursuit of support for Israel. Now the U.S. wants to rule the Security Council, the UN and other countries—Russia in particular—out of the game.

Along with this, Bush officials considered that their most important victory was not the sketchy agreement signed by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). Rather it was the legitimacy conferred on this project and its entirely American sponsorship by the attendance of 44 countries.

There were two notable guests whose arrival was in doubt until the last minute. One was Syria. After a period of internal debate, the U.S. has apparently decided to work toward busting up the united front between this secular state and the U.S.’s main Islamic opponents in the region, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Lebanese Islamic party Hezbollah and the Palestinian Islamic organization Hamas. The other was Saudi Arabia, at least as fundamentalist as Iran, but whose fundamentalism is of the pro-U.S. variety because its king depends on U.S. backing. The high-level Saudi attendance was widely interpreted as a sign not only of giving in to U.S. demands, but of their own fears of a rivalry to their regional influence from Iran and its Islamic current.

In Bush’s speech, the brief conference’s only substantive moment, he warned, “The time is right because the battle is underway for the future of the Middle East… The extremists are trying to impose their dark vision.” In other words, the most compelling reason for holding the conference was the developing clash between the U.S. and its allies and client states, on the one hand, and on the other, anti-U.S. Islamic fundamentalism, including, most importantly right now, the Iranian regime, whose ideological, political and practical reach has grown with every new U.S. setback in the region, from Lebanon and Iraq to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Islamic fundamentalism is made up of disparate and often mutually antagonistic varieties, and the U.S. has often been the main supporter of reactionary Islamic forces for its own immediate interests. Yet anti-U.S. strands of this fundamentalism have put themselves at the head of opposition to American imperialism’s plans for the Greater Middle East and become the chief obstacle to the U.S.’s need to further penetrate and dominate these countries economically, socially and politically and create a more sustainable empire. After all, despite the benefits of CIA money during the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan, what most bothered Saudi citizen Osama Bin Laden about his country, for religious as well as political reasons, was its subservience to the U.S.

But the Annapolis agreement was not without content, although it simply states: “In the furtherance of the goal of two states, we agree to…engage in vigorous, continuous negotiations and shall make every effort to conclude an agreement before the end of 2008.” The point all the attendees had to endorse, at least by their very presence if not in words, was the defense and character of the Israeli state as the condition of the coming into existence of a Palestinian one. Bush emphasized the American commitment to Israel not just as one more country but as “a Jewish state and homeland for the Jewish people”—a state not for its inhabitants, like normal states, but for one and only one people, no matter where they live, and regardless of what other people live there (even if it were true, which it is not, that Jews everywhere constitute a single people). Once this principle is enshrined, and even more made the touchstone on which everything else depends, then what inevitably follows are measures to enforce that reactionary, arbitrary and inherently unstable character:

• No right to return for the almost 4.5 million Palestinians expelled with the establishment of that state and its subsequent wars of expansion, because that might make the Jews a minority. The distant—and religiously defined—descendents of Jews who left Palestine, for the most part, 1,500 years ago, are considered to enjoy a right to “return” to a place they’ve never been, while actual living Palestinians born there and their children are considered to have lost this right.

• Second class citizenship for the 1.5 million Palestinians remaining within that state’s borders, with legal restrictions, hardships and sometimes violence designed to make leaving their best option, and public debate in Zionist circles about the possible forcible “transfer” of Israel’s remaining Arabs to…the Palestinian mini-state? At any rate, in arguing for “two homelands,” Bush argued that the existence of Israel as “a Jewish homeland” requires a separate “homeland” for Palestinians…where Palestinians presently living in Israel and elsewhere should presumably return. 

• Oppressive circumstances for other non-Jews and broad numbers of non-religious Jews, because to an increasing, and to many Israelis an alarming extent, Jewish fundamentalist religious leaders are expanding their authority over everyone’s daily existence (for instance, forbidding non-Jewish marriage, making divorce dependent on the husband’s consent and in other ways giving the force of law to religious restrictions).

• And, no less inevitably, ongoing Israeli military, economic and political control over the Palestinians beyond the self-proclaimed (but so far ever-expanding) borders of the state, in order to protect the Jewish state from those whose lives and future have been crushed.

The kind of Palestinian state the U.S. envisages could be seen in the fact that Washington has already decided who is going to be allowed to lead it, no matter what Palestinians think or vote. For years the U.S. backed Israel in refusing to even talk to Abbas’ predecessor as head of the PLO and Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat. Now they’ve decided that Abbas, with the same credentials, should speak for all Palestinians. But they still treat him as their servant. He was not given a single commitment for positive motion on any of what his advisors said were the key issues: the right of return for exiled Palestinians (implicitly, the door was slammed shut), Israel’s borders (still unbound), water rights (Israel’s monopoly of water makes much of the land left to Palestinians useless) and the status of Jerusalem (most of which the Israelis have sworn never to surrender). After the conference, the Palestinian Authority president complained that the U.S. didn’t even bother to inform him about their change of heart at the Security Council, a slap in the face since Abbas had called the resolution “proof of the U.S.’s commitment” to getting Israel to make compromises. Nevertheless, at the conference itself he shuffled along with whatever he was told, because U.S. support is his main source of legitimacy and lifeblood.

While Annapolis did accomplish something for the U.S. and Israel, that success is very relative. It also underlined their weaknesses. The conference showed that Israel is the U.S.’s only reliable bastion in the Middle East; that the U.S. has no just solution to offer the Palestinians; and that its ability to get its way in the region depends on the shaky loyalty of isolated, highly antiquated and fragile regimes increasingly hated by their own people. Even American imperial strategists recognize that this situation is anything but stable, that the best they can hope for is to keep it together long enough to recast the whole region through threatening and perhaps waging further wars, especially confronting and totally reorganizing or breaking the Islamic Republic of Iran—in a gathering whirlwind whose consequences are unpredictable.

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