‘Informed sources’ say that, if invited, India would be willing to participate in the conference on Palestine at Annapolis in the US next week. That would be a folly. Its agenda does not include the statesman-like Saudi-proposed ‘Peace Initiative’ adopted at the summit of the Arab League in Beirut in 2002 or the Riyadh Declaration of March 29, 2007, which offered “a peace agreement with Israel”, with an independent Palestine on the territories it occupied in 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza.
It has a different purpose, which David Brooks laid bare in The New York Times. It is to build a coalition against “an Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas alliance. It is slightly unfortunate that the peace process itself is hollow. It is like having a wedding without a couple because you want to get the guests together for some other purpose. But that void can be filled in later. The main point is to organise the anti-Iranians around some vehicle and then reshape the strategic correlation of forces in the region”.
As for “the peace process itself, there is remarkably little substance to it so far. Even people inside the Israeli and Palestinian governments are not sure what’s actually going to be negotiated and what can be realistically achieved”. Mahmoud Abbas hardly “controls events a block from his headquarters”.
Both President George W Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are hostile to a genuine two-state solution. Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post reveals in his book, The Confidante, their partnership with the hardliners in Israel, Ariel Sharon and his friend and Chief of Staff, Dov Weissglas. “The goal of finally resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict now seems further away than ever, in part because of decisions she and the President made in the first term and since Rice’s tenure as Secretary of State.”
Two revelations expose the deceit. Rice told Weissglas, as the US prepared to attack Iraq: “This effort, if it happens, will be a strategic relief to Israel.” Bush told Abbas in October 2005: “Don’t have an election if you think you will lose.” Hamas won a landslide victory on January 25, 2006, and upset their plans. Abbas was in a bind. If he excluded Hamas, the polls would have had no credibility. He did not import the technology of rigged elections, perfected elsewhere as a fine art.
The US wrecked its own ‘roadmap’, published on April 30, 2003. Rice told Weissglas in confidence: “The roadmap is at best a marginal plan. It doesn’t work.” Bush’s letter to Sharon on April 14, 2004, accepting the “new realities on the ground, including existing major Israeli population centres”, was drafted by Weissglas. It repudiated two fundamentals: inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by war and the Palestinians’ right to return. Several vast settlement blocks would remain, including those that choke off Arab East Jerusalem from the West Bank hinterland. Some 50 retired US diplomats protested to Bush. He had flouted the UN resolution, the Quartet’s plan, international law and the rights of three million Palestinians. “In fact, you and Prime Minister Sharon consistently have excluded Palestinians from peace negotiations.” They quoted a former Palestinian minister, “who voiced the overwhelming reaction of people around the world when he said: ‘I believe President Bush declared the death of the peace process today.’”
The implications of Sharon’s disengagement were explained by Weissglas in an interview to the Israeli daily Haaretz published on October 6, 2004. “The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process. When you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent a discussion of the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Disengagement supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.” He added: “Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda… with a (US) presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress.” The Gaza disengagement “is actually formaldehyde so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians”. It is the liquid in which dead bodies are preserved.
Brent Scowcroft, National Security Advisor to the senior Bush, saw it all. “For Sharon, this is not the first move; this is the last move. He’s getting out of Gaza because he can’t sustain 8,000 settlers with half his army protecting them. Then, when he’s out, he will have an Israel that he can control and a Palestinian state atomised enough that it can’t be a problem.”
Mark the decline. In 1947, the UN partition plan gave the Arabs 47 per cent of their homeland for over seven centuries. The 1993 Oslo accords gave 22 per cent (Gaza and the West Bank); in 2000, PM Ehud Barak offered 80 per cent of that 22 per cent, Sharon offered a Palestinian State on 42 per cent of the 80 per cent of Oslo’s 22 per cent of the Arab’s own homeland till 1948. In March 2006, Olmert said Israel would keep 36.5 per cent of the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley.
A security wall was built around the West Bank to cage in more than two million Palestinians, an electrified fence having already imprisoned more than a million in Gaza. The new wall would be at least 1,000 km long. The Green Line, the Israel-West Bank border till 1967, was 300 km long. It would split Palestinians into two Bantustan statelets behind concrete and electrified fences.
More than a thousand Israeli settlers are added every month to the thousands in the West Bank. They were 126,900 strong in 1993, and number 250,000 today. More than 500 checkpoints hinder Palestinian movement; Jewish settlers move freely. As Rozer Cohen noted: “What there is of a nascent Palestine is non-viable, non-contiguous, non-sovereign and dependent.”
On the initiative of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Fatah and Hamas agreed at Mecca on February 8, 2007, to form a government of national unity. The US and Israel decided that Hamas must be removed. A devastating embargo was imposed. The coalition broke up. Steven Ezlanger of The New York Times reported from Gaza: “The civil war that Palestinians insisted could never happen just has, a civil war abetted by Israel and the US in the name of anti-terrorism and stability.”
The peace process is a wreck not only diplomatically but by conditions deliberately created on the ground. India has no role to play in this mess. The BJP regime made a U-turn on India’s policy of old. The UPA is striving to achieve a balance, balancing India’s strategic relations with Israel. But it must never be privy to wrong. India’s capacity to do right is limited. Its capacity to retain its self-respect remains undiminished.