Bush's government will face elections next year, and Olmert's may face a re-shuffle even before, as a result of the findings of the Winograd Commission of inquiry into Israel's performance in its 2006 war on Lebanon. The Palestinian Authority faces a multitude of problems, including an unprecedented fiscal crisis. According to the latest World Bank report–euphemistically subtitled, “Restarting Palestinian Economic Recovery” - the PA has to overcome internal division and raise US $1.26 billion annually, in order to ensure its survival in 2008 and beyond. Therefore, a timely and marketable Annapolis Meeting appears to be vital for the success of the PA donor meeting scheduled for December.
Also the Palestinian people are in need of progress towards genuine peace. But is the US-sponsored Annapolis process genuine?
The Annapolis theater, major players and objectives
It would be a farce, if the stakes weren't so high. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, head of the Israeli negotiating team for the Annapolis summit, “has long taken an interest in the true pivot of the conflict, the Palestinian demand for 'right of return' ”(JerusalemPost,15October).Livniand her team are equipped with a 2004 letter from President Bush to then Prime Minister Sharon, which assures Israel that in the President's view a two-state solution does not require full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 ceasefire lines, and return of Palestinian refugees to Israel is unrealistic and should occur to a future Palestinian state.
This letter has since been compared by Palestinians with the Britain’s 1917 pledge of support for a "Jewish National Home" in Palestine (Balfour Declaration). With Bush's letter in their hands, Livni and her team are expected to work hard to ensure that Abu Mazen will have to deliver from the start, in the first Annapolis round, what used to be considered the desired outcome of peace negotiations: Palestinian recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state”, and of the principle that a solution of the Palestinian refugee question will not be based on Palestinian refugees' right of return to their homes of origin in Israel (UNGAR 194).
Israel's team is reportedly assisted in the United States by a Zionist lobby, including former State Department and Pentagon officials, who urge Rice to adopt a peace framework that provides for Israeli and Palestinian capitals in Jerusalem and the exclusion of Palestinian refugee return to Israel (AP, 4 October). Tony Blair, Quartet Envoy to the Middle East, comes in to help on the ground with a proposal to establish a new Palestinian city near Ramallah that could accommodate “tens of thousands of Palestinians living in dreadful conditions and poverty in refugee camps.”
(Haaretz, 17 October). Condoleezza Rice, in line with an old principle of US Middle East policy, assures that she has no intention of imposing on Israel “anything that will not be acceptable to it” (Haaretz, 15 October), and US policy will be backed by the Quartet, including the United Nations, as long as the UN Secretary-General does not withdraw as recommended by John Dugard, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the OPT (A/62/275, 17 August 2007).
The price-tag of “success” at the Annapolis meeting is unprecedented: recognition in principle by the divided PLO and PA Caretaker Government led by Abu Mazen of Israel as the “state of the Jewish people” and no Palestinian right to return. This would de-legitimize the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality, and trigger further fragmentation and conflict among the Palestinian people in Palestine and in exile. Apparently for this reason – and because “NGOs can reach segments of the population that governments have not been able to reach” - the US State Department has recruited the help of so-called civil society. (See press release, “Nongovernmental groups seek peaceful solution to Mideast conflict”, United States Department of State, 18 October 2007)
The State Department in particular promotes a dubious organization called “One Voice”, which operates mainly via the internet and is mainly sponsored by Daniel Lubetzky, a Mexican-born Jewish businessman in the United States. The latter is not only concerned with guaranteeing Israel's future as the state of the Jewish people, but also appears – along with a list of famous US neocons - among the “officialcoresupporters”ofthe"UnitedStatesCommitteeforaFree
Lebanon", described as a lobbying and propaganda organization in favor of US intervention to end Syrian intervention in Lebanese politics. “One Voice” claims to have recruited over 600,000 endorsers of its peace initiative, and holds, according Danya Shaikh, executive director in the US, that the conflict“ wasn't Palestinians versus Israelis. It's really moderates versus extremists.”
Equipped with apparently unlimited financial resources and much official clout, the virtual civil society of “One Voice” has challenged the actual Palestinian civil society in the occupied West Bank in a quest to prove that the official Annapolis agenda enjoys Palestinian public support. “One Voice” lost out in this round.
Building the Anti-Apartheid Movement
Thousands of Palestinians and renowned Arab and Palestinian artists were to flock to Jericho for a large “One Voice” peace festival on 18 October, in order to join, via satellite, thousands in Tel Aviv and elsewhere in "one million voices calling for peace." The global "One Voice" campaign, however, lacks reference to international law, Israel's obligations, and the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. The organizers tried to mislead the public and artists with deceptive slogans and discrepancy in the language used in Arab and English statements, claimed falsely that PA President Abbas was the event's main patron, and included names of well-known personalities as members of various committees of their organization without their knowledge or consent.
Guided by the Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), a solid partnership between diverse community organizations and political activists succeeded to expose the facts: many artists withdrew, and the organizers had to cancel the festival. "One Voice" continues to slander the Palestinian boycott campaign. An Arabic-language statement informed that the event was canceled for "technical reasons", while English-statements from the organizers cite "security reasons" and "threats" by "extremists" against the participating artists as the reason for the cancellation. Still, the fact that local organizations acting in unity were able to thwart this huge and handsomely funded event marks a success for the community-based Palestinian Campaign for the Boycott of Israel (BDS) in the OPT. (For more detail, see: www.pacbi.org, press release, 17 October)
Meanwhile, and also in the OPT, preparations of the first Palestinian conference for Israel boycott are under way (see announcement), and the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) has taken a resolution for the boycott of the Histadrut, Israel's main Zionist trade union. At the same time, the National Committee for the Commemoration of Nakba-60 has launched preparations for the popular commemoration in the OPT in 2008. In a memorandum to President Abbas, accompanied by the press statement, the National Committee demands that Yasser Abedrabbo, member of the PLO Executive and notorious for his efforts to undermine Palestinian refugees' right of return, be stripped from any official role in Nakba-60 commemorations.
Parallel efforts are maintained abroad by Palestinian and global civil society, in order to develop vision, strategy, program and networks required for a sustainable Anti-Apartheid Movement. The UN Civil Society Conference held at the European Parliament in Brussels in August has issued a statement and call to action which reflectstheemergingconsensus:60years into the conflict and without a rights-based solution insight, Israel's regime in historic Palestine (Israel-OPT) is an Apartheid-regime. Nakba-60 and Palestinian refugees' right of return to their homes of origin (UNGAR 194) is the lead-theme for 2008 for raising awareness and exposing Israel's discriminatory regime. The global Campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel (BDS) is the strategic tool for building pressure on Israel and governments to comply with international law and permit exercise of the inalienable rights by the Palestinian people.
Follow-up conferences have served to: affirm unity and coordinate action for the BDS and Nakba-60 Campaign (e.g., PSC and SOAS, London, October); rebuild and strengthen Palestinian/Arab unity and networks across borders (e.g., Ittijah, Cyprus, October; Annual Meeting/Palestine Right of Return Coalition, Sweden, November); deepen understanding and analysis of the Apartheid-reality in Palestine (e.g., Sabeel, October); analyze and promote the vision of a one-state solution (e.g., SOAS, November); and, develop legal analysis and strategy (e.g., Annual Meeting/BADIL Legal Support Network, Sweden, November). In December, Palestinian and global civil society networks and organizations will gather for a Civil Society Forum for Just Peace in Spain, in order to assess, plan and coordinate the steps ahead.