The Annapolis War Preparation Conference
The Annapolis Conference of November 27, 2007, has been featured as a “peace conference” called to help bring about a peaceful resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. But this is a deception and fraud. It should be remembered that the Bush-Blair run-up to the Iraq invasion-occupation was justified on the grounds of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction and threat of a mushroom cloud in New York. It was one of those Kafka-era paradoxes: a war to prevent war by preemptive action. And Bush’s purported fear as regards Iran is that its possible future possession of a nuclear weapon would bring about World War III, thus calling for preemptive action—that is, World War III today…to prevent World War III. Given this background, and the steady drumbeat for war against Iran by the Bush administration, any organized action that has any link to Iran has to be examined carefully, even—or maybe especially— when labeled a peace conference.
The point is strengthened by the fact that, although this was supposedly a peace conference dealing with a struggle in Iran’s neighborhood, neither Iran nor its local allies—Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas on the West Bank— were invited. This makes it sound as if there was a a deliberate effort to get together all the Middle Eastern countries that were U.S. clients and allies to present a common and hostile front to Iran and its allies. A real peace conference would have tried to find common ground among all these countries; a war conference that was trying to exacerbate differences and prepare the ground for war would do things the way Bush and Rice have done them.
In fact it was a widely recognized objective of the conference to bring together Arab states that would provide support, or give the impression of support, to the planned U.S. attack on Iran. These “moderate” Arab states— which most importantly include the three dictatorships of Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia—are very responsive to U.S. pressure, which had to be applied to some of them given that “not a single one of the conditions imposed by the Arab League for participation have been fulfilled” (Alain Gresh). By getting them in line, “the United States can hope to achieve its essential objective—which has nothing to do with the Palestinians—to produce a broad front of so-called moderate Arab states, Israel, itself, and some Europeans (with a special role for France), against the ‘Iranian threat’.” Martin Indyk, a Clinton-era ambassador to Israel and well-known Israel friend, agrees with Gresh, telling a Brookings Institution audience that “Iran’s bid for hegemony…has created an opportunity for the United States to put together an Arab-Israeli alliance against Iran,” and that Bush’s new engagement in Middle East peace is a “tactical move for a strategic purpose…to counter the Iranian threat in Iraq, in the region.” Agreeing with Gresh and Indyk, also, is Khaled Meshal, a Damascus-based Hamas political leader, who recently told a meeting of Arab intellectuals that the conference was a camouflage for the main U.S. “strategic game,” which is war on Iran.
Another reason to classify Annapolis as a “war conference” is that it fits well with Israeli plans to crush Hamas, militarily as well as by intensified economic pressure on Gaza (starvation, medical deprivation, etc.). A peace conference that intended to strive for a political settlement with the Palestinians would have invited Hamas, which represents over 50 percent of West Bank-Gaza Palestinians, as there is no way that Mahmoud Abbas and his minority government can negotiate a peace with Israel on its own, legally or with meaningful substance. Olmert has repeatedly said that nothing constructive can be done without rooting out the “terrorist infrastructure,” and he has repeatedly threatened more intense military action on “security” grounds. The “peace” conference, in which future negotiations will hinge on the ending of “terrorism” (Palestinian), provides Olmert with a windfall. He signs on for peace that will only follow a successful war against Hamas and Gaza and he gets credit for a peace effort even without the slightest intention of agreeing to a peace settlement. This is an old formula, but it works in the West, and we can expect Abbas to go along with this, as he needs the Israeli army to give him even the appearance of rule over the Palestinians.
A final reason to describe Annapolis as a war conference is that peace would require Israeli concessions that are certainly not going to be forthcoming, which makes the conference a joke—although, as Uri Avnery says, a joke that is “not funny.” The big issue and causal force in the struggle is the Israeli occupation: Israel’s massive takeover of Palestinian land and water on the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which at this point makes a Palestinian state unviable. Israel has long avoided any “final settlement.” In a notorious interview in 2004, Sharon adviser Dov Weisglass exulted that, “The disengagement [from Gaza] is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians” (Ari Shavit, “The Big Freeze,” Haaretz, Oct. 8, 2004).
Israel does not want a real “political process” that might require that it give up any of its settlements, and there is no pressure whatsoever on it to do so. The imbalance of power between Israel and the Abbas splinter supposedly representing the Palestinians is greater than ever, so that nothing useful can transpire without great pressure on Israel from the West—especially the United States. But this is politically out of the question and Bush has made it clear that, “The United States cannot impose our vision” on Israel and Palestine. In Iraq he can destroy a country by violence to “impose our vision,” but as regards Israel, a recipient of billions of U.S. largesse and diplomatic and military protection, he can only “facilitate.” Obviously, this favors the dominant party, which simply continues the long de facto support of Israeli ethnic cleansing.
The New York Times on Israel-Palestine
Israel-Palestine is an area in which the ideological biases of the New York Times are blatant, with the result that all moral rules disintegrate for the editors. The 2006 Israeli attack on Lebanon was a straightforward violation of the UN Charter. Its bombing of civilian facilities and, in the final days of the war, depositing over a million cluster bombs scattered over the Lebanon countryside were serious war crimes, but not for the Times’s editors. Israel’s settlements on the West Bank are violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which unconditionally prohibits the “occupying power” from introducing settlers and displacing those in possession of the territory (“Protected persons who are in occupied territory shall not be deprived…by any annexation by the latter of the whole or part of the occupied territory,” Article 47. “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies,” Article 49). The Times has never pointed this out or condemned the settlements as a law violation, nor has it assailed Israel for snubbing its nose at the International Court condemnation of the apartheid wall. In short, the editors (and the reporters as well) have internalized the view that international law only applies to others, not to Israel and its protector, “the ruler of the world.”
The same point holds as regards ethnic cleansing. The New York Times’s editors and their reporter Marlise Simons were very indignant over ethnic cleansing attributed to Serbs during the Balkan wars, but the massive ethnic cleansing by the Croats in Operation Storm and by the Kosovo Albanians after the NATO takeover of Kosovo in June 1999 didn’t trouble them at all. The essence of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the reason for the continuous delay in a “final settlement,” has been the steady ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in favor of the “chosen” people. The New York Times’s editors and reporters do not admit the real reason for the settlement delay; they accept the “security against terrorism” fraud as the key to the massive dispossessions, the over 13,000 Palestinian homes and a million olive trees destroyed, and the thousands of Palestinian deaths. They do not condemn Israel for its long-term, brutal and illegal ethnic cleansing. This means that the editors/reporters are not principled opponents of ethnic cleansing, but only oppose it when politically convenient, which makes them both unprincipled and hypocrites.
The Annapolis Conference was called by the Bush administration after seven years of its complete accommodation to Israeli interests, including: support for the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the steady expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank and East Jerusalem, extremely harsh treatment of the 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza strip, acceptance of the continued construction of the apartheid wall within Palestinian territory, the refusal to accept a Hamas election victory on the West Bank and positive encouragement of a Palestinian civil war and disunity, and no pressure whatsoever for a final settlement that would define the boundaries of a Palestinian state. On April 14, 2004, in a letter to Sharon, Bush even explicitly sanctioned “the new realities on the ground” as something that any final settlement would have to accept, thereby giving his approval to Israeli ethnic cleansing, continued violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, abandonment of the original “Road Map,” and undermining the possibility of any meaningful Palestinian state.
“Thinking Beyond Annapolis” & “Starting From Annapolis”
These are the titles of two New York Times editorials on the Annapolis Conference (November 24 and November 28, 2007), that are worth looking at closely to see the structured biases that support long-term ethnic cleansing. Let’s examine them, along with related elements of Times news reports, which share closely the framing and premises of the editorials.
—“After six years of neglecting the issue, President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice are to be commended for finally trying” (ed., 11-24). The first clause states an error of fact—Bush and Rice didn’t neglect the issue. They offered a road map, which had serious weaknesses, but they allowed Israel to ignore it and, as noted earlier, they gave active support to Israel’s war in Lebanon, wall construction in violation of the ICJ ruling, accelerated settlements— which Bush explicitly sanctioned in April 2004—the starving of Gaza, and numerous other actions strengthening Israel’s control of Palestinian territory and savaging the Palestinians. The second clause implies that this effort is a serious attempt to solve the problem neglected for six years, which ignores more plausible real motives.
—“What the meeting needs to produce is a disciplined process of negotiations, addressing all the core issues that the Israelis, Palestinians and Mr. Bush have so far refused to deal with” (11-24). This ignores the fact that the weakness of the Palestinians and interests of the Israelis have long made “negotiations” a farce; it ignores the fact that the core issue is the occupation and theft of Palestinian property. Israeli Civil Administration data show that some 40 percent of the settlements were built on privately-owned land of Palestinians “helpless to safeguard what is in most cases their sole property that was robbed in broad daylight by an occupying state” (Gideon Levy, “What do you mean when you say ‘no’,” Haaretz, Nov. 18, 2007). The other 60 percent, of course, was Palestinian state land, illegally appropriated by the Israelis. And it ignores the fact that the Israelis will never make concessions on the key issue without the kind of huge external pressure from the West that the Times’s editors have never acknowledged or supported. It is of course a lie that the “Palestinians” have “refused to deal with” this core issue.
—“The Americans have not been getting anything close to the help they need” (11-24)—referring to the Arab states dragging their feet in attending the conference. But the Americans don’t need any support from the Arab states to put the requisite pressure on Israel—they needed some internal pressure. However, as Uri Avnery points out, “Bush is quite unable to exert the slightest pressure—the [U.S.] election scene has already begun, and the two big parties are bulwarks standing in the way of any pressure on Israel. The Jewish and Evangelistic lobbies, together with the neo-cons, will not allow one critical word about Israel to be uttered unpunished” (“How to Get Out?,” Gush-Shalom.org, Nov. 17, 2007). In short, the current U.S. unconditional support for anything Israel does, which means zero pressure on Israel for anything substantive, in itself makes the conference a farce.
—“It is no surprise that even moderate Arab leaders do not have much confidence in either Ms. Rice’s diplomatic skills or Mr. Bush’s willingness to press the Israelis to compromise” (11-24). This editorial was written before Bush indicated that he had no intention of pressing anybody, but the editors don’t admit that Bush was incapable of applying pressure on Israel given U.S. political conditions. Note also that the editors fail to say here what “compromises” the Israelis might reasonably be asked to make. In the editorial of November 28 the editors do mention that the pledges under the 2003 “road map” included “ending Israeli settlements.” But neither in these editorials nor in their accompanying news articles do they mention the Bush April 2004 abandonment of the road map and acceptance of the settlements.
Gideon Levy says in Haaretz that, “Of all Israel’s iniquities in the occupied territories—the brutality, the assassinations, the siege, the hunger, the blackouts, the checkpoints and mass arrests—none serves as witness to its real intentions [more] than the settlements…. Now we are on the eve of another peace event, yet during the past year another 3,525 new residential units were built in the territories, under the auspices of a government that talks incessantly about the end of occupation and two states…. The enterprise has not ceased for a moment. It will not stop now.” Reading this statement, you can understand why this regular Israeli reporter for Haaretz is never bylined in the New York Times, or elsewhere.
—“But they all insist that they want a settlement. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, is too weak and under too much pressure from Hamas militants to make serious compromises without their support, while Israel needs to know that if it is serious about an agreement, it will be welcomed in from the cold” (11-24). Note that it is Abbas who has to make “serious compromises,” unspecified but presumably ones that would protect Israeli “security.” In both editorials the word “violence” is used only in reference to the Palestinians. They have great difficulty in applying such an invidious word to Israeli actions, although the paper’s own reporter James Bennet noted several years ago that until the second intifada (i.e., 2001 and after) the ratio of Palestinian to Israeli victims of violence was 20 to 1—and although the record thereafter shows a ratio running from 3-1 to the more recent elevated number of 37 to 1 (150 Palestinians versus 4 Israelis killed, July 17-November 24, 2007). Furthermore, a number of Israeli specialists have acknowledged that anti-Israeli violence comes out of the desperation of a crushed populace—former Shin Beth head Ami Ayalon has said that the suicide bombers, which date from the second intifada, reflect the “bottomless despair” of the Palestinians—and would surely subside or disappear with the ending of the primary and larger (anti-Palestinian) violence. But the Times editors have internalized the convenient big lies that Palestinian violence is greater than that of Israel and is the cause of Israel’s “retaliation.”
The big question is whether Israel could ever be “serious about an agreement” that stops, let alone rolls back, their ethnic cleansing program. Gideon Levy points out that “a tiny detail seems to have been forgotten: Israel has signed a series of binding agreements to freeze settlement activity, which it never intended to fulfill. Of the 40 years of occupation, only during three has construction been stopped despite all the agreements and promises to do so. There is no reason to believe that Israel will behave differently this time.”
—“Hamas, the Islamic faction that seized Gaza last June from Mr. Abbas’s Fatah forces, did not get an invitation. It is still refusing to accept Israel’s right to exist. A productive meeting, with a high-powered Arab guest list, might prompt Hamas’s leaders to rethink their obstructionism, or Gaza’s residents to rethink their support of Hamas” (11-24). Fatah, Israel, the U.S., and the New York Times have refused to honor the results of the democratic Palestinian election that gave Hamas power and Hamas “seized Gaza” in a counter-coup against Fatah’s refusal to honor Hamas’s electoral rights. Hamas refuses to recognize Israel as a state that will not allow Palestinian refugees to return as required by international law and that treats non-Jews as second class citizens; but there is still no reason to believe that Hamas would not do business with the Israeli state. It honored a ceasefire with Israel for many months, even in the face of continued Israeli violence. Israel doesn’t recognize Hamas’s right to exist or to take office after a democratic election and still doesn’t recognize the right of Palestinians to a state of their own based on the Green Line borders. What is the nature of Hamas’s “obstructionism?” Winning an election and refusing to allow the minority favored by Israel to rule? Refusing to accept the Israeli settlements that are in violation of international law?
—“Israel has moved to bolster Mr. Abbas ahead of Annapolis, releasing some Palestinian prisoners, approving the shipment of ammunition and armoured trucks to Mr. Abbas’s security forces on the West Bank and once again promising to halt Jewish settlements—all welcome steps” (11-24). Note the failure in this editorial also to elaborate and reflect on the fact that those earlier promises to halt settlements were “unkept”; note the failure to mention that only a few hundred of 10,000 prisoners were released, almost all incarcerated without due process, and that Israel arrested more Palestinians in October than they released in the show of good will (some 600). Note the complaisance of the editors at arming Fatah and helping stoke intra-Palestinian conflict and their complete disinterest in a negotiated settlement among the Palestinians.
The editors also never address the question of why Abbas is so unpopular among Palestinians and why Hamas has gained political ground on him. In large measure it is because when he came into office in 2005 the Israelis (with tacit U.S. consent) treated him like a “plucked chicken,” to use Ariel Sharon’s contemptuous description, and allowed him to show no improvement whatever in Palestinian conditions. Henry Siegman describes the Israeli treatment of Abbas when he took office in 2005, at which time Condoleeza Rice and James Wolfensohn, who was then the envoy of the Quartet (EU, UN, U.S., and Russia), worked out a detailed agreement with the Israeli government to remove many of the over 500 checkpoints and roadblocks that “have devastated the Palestinian economy and turned Palestinian life, in all of its aspects, into an endless nightmare” (Siegman, “Annapolis: The Cost of Failure,” New York Review of Books, Nov. 21, 2007). The plan included the creation of a safe passage that would connect the West Bank and Gaza, “to which Israel had already committed itself in the Oslo accords.” Siegman notes that, “The whole point of that agreement was to show Palestinians that Abbas’s moderation and opposition to violence could obtain results.” But, Siegman says, “it proved the opposite. According to Wolfensohn, Israel violated the agreement before the ink of its representatives’ signatures had dried.” And according to Wolfensohn, “In the months that followed, every aspect of the agreement was abrogated.” Needless to say the New York Times never reported this development and its meaning in terms of the sources of Palestinian violence and the reasons for the rise of Hamas and decline of Abbas.
—“To be credible, the conference needs to begin serious, detailed and sustained talks on the core issues: the borders of a Palestine state, the fate of refugees, the future of Jerusalem and a guarantee for Israel’s legitimate security” (11-24). Note the complete lack of concern with “Palestine’s legitimate security,” a notion that may not exist for the editors, who have given no attention and expressed no indignation at the rising malnutrition rates and medical crisis in Gaza produced by the Israeli siege. (The Times editors have, of course, never quoted former Sharon senior adviser Dov Weisglass’s joke to reporters that he wasn’t starving the Gazans to death, but just making them a little hungry—“The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not make them die of hunger.”
Notice also the Times editors’ lack of specificity in the statement about the core issues, except for that “guarantee” of Israel’s security. The paper’s news articles also feature the primacy of this issue—“security, an issue that remains at the heart of the political differences between the Israelis and Palestinians” (Myers and Erlanger, “Bush, in 3rd Day of Talks, Promotes Peace Dialogue,” Nov. 29, 2007). This confuses the issue that the Israelis have used to fend off a settlement—Israeli security—with the core issue for the Palestinians and the world—the occupation and correlate ethnic cleansing. Note finally the failure to mention that “talks,” even if sustained, won’t get anywhere without pressure on the party that has a long record and interest in stalling to allow further land/water theft.
Aluf Benn points out in Haaretz that engaging in high level talks and making gestures to the Palestinians creates “the most convenient diplomatic situation” for Olmert and the Israelis because such gestures are “in themselves sufficient to remove international pressure on Israel to withdraw from the territories and to end the occupation.” This thought and analysis of political strategy cannot be found in the New York Times.
—“President Bush is to open the meeting with what we hope will be a precedent-setting speech. He must demonstrate that he has a clear post-Annapolis strategy and the political will—not yet evident—to keep with this throughout his last 14 months in office.” This is nonsense and lacks substance on the content of a useful “strategy.” Bush’s speech opted out of applying any pressure and was thus valueless in terms of achieving anything useful in Palestine, something that was highly predictable. His stress was on the need for the Palestinians to “show that a Palestinian state will accept its responsibility and have the capability to be a source of stability and peace—for its own citizens, for the people of Israel, and for the whole region.” That Palestinian state doesn’t yet exist and its people have been beaten, starved, and dispossessed for decades, but their victimizer is not asked to “be a source of stability and peace,” although most of the world regards it as the main source of instability and war. And Bush only asks the illegal occupier and dispossessor to “end settlement expansion.”
—“The best way to move forward is for the conference to produce a document laying out agreed parameters and a timetable for negotiation.” But this has regularly been done in the past, and the preliminary document produced by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in mid-November couldn’t even agree on whether it was a “document” or merely a “statement,” and included no demand by the Palestinians for dismantling checkpoints or the separation barrier, relief of the siege of Gaza, or even a freeze on the settlements during negotiations. The Israelis included a demand for recognition of the state of Israel (as a Jewish state?) and a denouncement and ending of terror (Amira Hass, “Palestinians: Final status should be agreed on within eight months,” Haaretz, Nov. 22, 2007).
“In his opening speech, President Bush assured Israelis and the Palestinians that ‘America will do everything in our power to support their quest for peace.’ We hope that he means it” (11-28). This assumes falsely that both sides want peace independently of larger objectives, such as the right and opportunity to take over more Palestinian land on the part of the Israelis and the right to resist such dispossession on the part of the Palestinians. As Israeli peace activist Jeff Halper has repeatedly pointed out, a “transitional” Palestinian state, with “negotiations” on boundaries stretched out interminably, “is ideal, since it offers the possibility of imposing borders and expanding into the Palestinian areas,” and the final settlement postponed indefinitely by “terrorism…. If peace and security were truly the issue, Israel could have had that 20 years ago if it would have conceded 22 percent of the country required for a viable Palestinian state.” Now, with Israel stronger and U.S. support possibly even more unconditional, “why, ask the Israeli Jewish public and the government it elects, should we concede anything significant?” (“When the roadmap is a One Way Street: Israel’s Strategy for Permanent Occupation,” CounterPunch.org, Nov, 28, 2007). The New York Times editors cannot admit this is the Israeli perspective, as it implies a deliberate Israeli refusal to settle in the interest of continued dispossession and ethnic cleansing, now as well as in the past, although it can be confirmed by repeated statements by Israeli leaders.
Demonstrating its role as a propaganda organ, the New York Times has long blacked out Halper, an Israeli academic who is coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and an eloquent critic of Israeli policy. It is perhaps a useful showing of its huge bias to contrast the paper’s citing of people like Halper with its use of officials and Israel apologists. Jeff Halper, the eloquent Israeli writer and peace activist Uri Avnery, Haaretz reporters Amira Hass, Gideon Levy, and Danny Rubinstein, and Henry Siegman—the former U.S. head of the American Jewish Committee, who some years ago moved out of the role of apologist into that of critic of Israeli policy—had zero bylines on the op-ed page of the New York Times from January 1, 2002 through the end of November 2007. On the other hand, Martin Indyk and Dennis Ross had five op-ed columns apiece on Middle East issues during this period. Indyk is director of the Saba Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings, is a former associate of the pro-Israel think tank the Washington Institute for Middle East Policy, was a former researcher for the leading pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, and served as U.S. ambassador to Israel during the Clinton years. Ross was also affiliated with the Washington Institute both before and after he also served as a Clinton emissary in Israel-Palestine negotiations.
So the U.S. revolving door runs between pro-Israel lobbies, the U.S. State Department, and the New York Times opinion page. The Times’s misleading treatment of the Annapolis Conference follows accordingly, reflecting a deeply embedded pro-ethnic cleansing, anti-international law, and racist bias in this important case. This is why the paper cannot portray the Annapolis Conference in its true light, as a War Conference rather than a Peace Conference, just as it couldn’t expose the lies leading up to the invasion-occupation of Iraq or describe it as a planned aggression and UN Charter violation.
Edward Herman is professor emeritus of finance at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, an economist, and media analyst. He is the author of numerous books, including The Real Terror Network, The Myth of The Liberal Media: An Edward Herman Reader, Degraded Capability: The Media and the Kosovo Crisis (co-edited with Phil Hammond) and The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism (with Noam Chomsky).