November 13, 2007 No.

Arab Columnists: The Annapolis Summit Will Serve Arab Interests

As the Annapolis summit draws near, Arab columnists have been publishing articles emphasizing that the summit will serve Arab interests. The articles argue that it is imperative for the Arabs to support the summit, since it will bring stability to the region, promote a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, put an end to the exploitation of the Palestinian issue by the "unholy alliance" of Iran, Syria and Hamas, and even serve as a deterrent to Iran.

The following are excerpts from two articles:

Liberal Author Dr. Mamoun Fandy: "No to Peace, Yes to a Settlement"

Liberal intellectual Dr. Mamoun Fandy, author of the recently published book on the Arab media (Un)Civil War of Words, wrote that the goal of achieving peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis should be given up as unrealistic. Instead, he argued, the Arabs and the Israelis should strive to reach a comprehensive legal settlement. Such policy would bring stability to the region, halt the Iranian nuclear project, and also distance Syria from Iran, bringing it closer to the Arab states. The following are excerpts from the article, as it appeared in the English edition of Al-Sharq Al-Awsat.[1]

"If I have one [piece of] advice for [U.S.] Secretary of State [Condoleezza] Rice, it is to tell her to change the motto of the conference to “No to Peace and Yes to a Settlement.” It is impossible for the Arabs and Israelis to reach peace. The [roots of their] hatred for each other are [both] religious and ideological. If peace were to break out between Palestinians and Israelis tomorrow that would not mean an end to the Qassam rockets. It is about time to accept these realities and work towards a legal settlement, NOT towards peace.

"The American administration should ask itself about the fundamental strategic difference between a Palestinian-Israeli settlement and an Arab-Israeli settlement. If I were an Israeli prime minister, I would not see any strategic value in a settlement with the Palestinians alone. Israel has managed to deal with the Palestinians [using strategies] of conflict management for the past 50 years, and it is ready to [continue] managing this conflict [in the same way] for another 50 [years].

"During the Clinton administration, it was possible to argue that solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would contribute to the stability of the region. However, the strategic landscape has changed since 9/11, since the invasion of Iraq and the resulting Shi'ite-Sunni tension, and since the collapse of the situation in Lebanon.

"Another factor that has fundamentally changed the strategic equation is the potential of a nuclear Iran. A nuclear Iran poses an existential threat to the survival of Israel - it is not simply a border issue. Also, in the past, the sharp division between Gaza and the West Bank did not exist, and the Arab Peace Initiative, signed by some 22 states during the 2002 Beirut Summit, had not yet been signed."

"We [Must] Move Away from the Narrow Focus of a Palestinian-Israeli Truce Towards a [Broader] Arab-Israeli Settlement"

"Therefore, the conditions that were conducive to peace during the Clinton administration have now changed, and [today,] a Palestinian-Israeli peace will not meet Israel’s strategic security needs. A Palestinian state that does not contribute to regional stability is of no interest to the Israelis, to the Americans and even to some Arabs.

"So where do we go from here?

"First we have to recognize that the strategic prize for the U.S., for Israel, and even some for Arab states would be to stabilize Iraq and contain Iran, and to prevent the latter from becoming a nuclear state. Israel and the U.S. need the 22 Arab nations that agreed to the Arab Peace Initiative to be their allies in any upcoming eventuality vis-a-vis Tehran. This can only happen if we move away from the narrow focus of a Palestinian-Israeli truce towards a [broader] Arab-Israeli settlement.

"Many argue that the one obstacle to such an effort is Syria’s intransigent position. However, anyone who listened to President Assad’s interview with BBC last month would surmise that Assad is ready to close shop and cut Hamas and Hezbollah loose from any Syrian patronage. He can do this if the price is right (i.e. if he gets the Golan Heights). Assad can be helpful in Iraq and on the Arab-Israeli front if we can [only] peel him away from Iran.

"Secretary Rice has two potential ways to solve this problem. The first option is for the U.S. Secretary of State to take all the relevant [U.N.] Security Council resolutions, and the Arab Peace Initiative that was approved by Arab states in 2002, and bring them to the best legal minds in the U.S. State Department. They, in turn, would combine them into one resolution that she can take to the Security Council. The latter would then propose a modern and decisive resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and invite the five permanent member-states to take part in the settlement conference and lend their voices to this decision.

"The second option is for Ms. Rice to take Israel’s traditional fears of the United Nations and the Security Council into account. Instead of submitting the aforementioned document to the U.N. Security Council, she could unofficially consult with the five permanent member-states on this matter, with the intention of gaining their support. A conference [aimed at reaching an Arab-Israeli settlement] would need this international backing. The Dayton model that settled the conflict in the Balkans is instructive here.

"It is also important for the Palestinians to know that they have a choice between an [independent] state and the Right of Return – they cannot get both even from the most dovish Israelis. Also, it is important that the Israelis understand that having a legal settlement with the Palestinians does not mean an end to the Qassam rockets. However, it would contribute significantly if, after a settlement [is reached], Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States condemned Hamas for launching rockets at Israel. Arabs would do well to give up on the idea of a ‘just and comprehensive peace’. No settlement in the history of international conflicts was just.

"It is very important for Secretary Rice, who is an excellent student of international politics, to understand that winning 22 Arab allies against Iran and against all the radical forces in the region is the real strategic prize for both Israel and the U.S.

"Thus, it is [essential] that the upcoming conference focus on a framework that can stabilize the region as whole. Focusing on the Palestinian track alone is not conducive to peace."

Lebanese Columnist: The Summit Will End the Exploitation of the Palestinians by the "Unholy Alliance" of Iran, Syria and Hamas

Columnist Khairallah Khairallah wrote in the Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal that the summit should be supported since it will promote stability in the region. The following are excerpts:[2]

"It is important for the summit... to be successful, since it will provide an opportunity to lay the foundations for a settlement between the Palestinians and Israel. The summit serves the interests of the Arabs, and it is therefore essential that the Arabs muster their courage, and prove that they are able to assume responsibility and deal with the extremist front formed by the 'unholy alliance,' which stretches from Tehran to Gaza via Damascus. [This alliance] includes parties that profess hostility to Israel but are in fact serving and perpetuating the occupation...

"Why is it in the interest of the Arabs to support the summit called by George Bush Jr., even though its results are uncertain?

"The answer to this question is, once again, that the Arabs need stability, and that a settlement between the Palestinians and Israel would promote stability, which would help to stop the exploitation of the Palestinians as fuel for the fire of regional conflicts – [exploitation] which has brought them nothing but calamities...

"But what can be done about a movement such as Hamas, which has devoted itself to promoting the state of "neither war nor peace," thereby serving the Israeli occupation by enabling Israel to establish a new reality on the ground? What can be done about a movement that refuses to recognize that the political campaign which accompanied the military campaign was the one that brought the Palestinian issue to [the attention of] the United Nations, allowing the PLO to [establish] representations and even embassies worldwide, including in major capitals?

"It was the political campaign – nourished by, and founded on, the armed campaign – which enabled the late Yasser Arafat, the historic leader of the Palestinian people, to gain access to the White House and become the statesman who received the largest number of visits in the year 2000...

"The Palestinian issue is [now] knocking on the gates of Jerusalem [i.e., is on Israel's agenda] every day thanks [only] to the political campaign, which was founded, first and foremost, on the achievements of the first intifada – the non-violent intifada that led to the Oslo Accords...

"[The fact that the Annapolis summit was initiated by the] Americans is not enough to make it bad. [True,] there is an American policy that has brought about unthinkable catastrophes, as evident from the current situation in Iraq. [At the same time], there is another American policy that should be supported, i.e. the [one that has led to the] international summit. It must be supported purely from the standpoint of Arab [interests], regardless of the rationale adopted by certain regimes, which are accustomed to using the Palestinians [for purposes of] blackmail and nothing else."

"Is There Anything Worse than What is Happening in Gaza, Which Has Turned into an Islamic Emirate... in the Taliban Style?"

"The summit must be supported because there is no other alternative, apart from leaving the situation as it is. Is there anything worse than what is happening today in Gaza, which has been transformed into a kind of Islamic emirate, ruled by Hamas in the Taliban style? The Gaza strip has been turned into one big prison for a million and a half Palestinians, who are, for all intents and purposes, under siege. Hamas takes pride in this prison, since there it has managed to combine its own militia – i.e. the Executive Force – with the [PA] security apparatuses, or rather with what is left of them, so as to tyrannize the populace more effectively.

"[The summit] is worthy of genuine Arab support, if only for providing the Palestinian people with a political agenda...

"The International summit will be another political campaign for the Palestinians who wish to liberate themselves from the occupation. They are in need of genuine Arab support, which will help them to make courageous decisions, unhampered by complexes such as the [urge to reject] the summit [just because] it is an American [initiative]. True, this is a difficult confrontation with an enemy that is pinning its hopes on the rifts within the Palestinian people, and on their inability to be realistic... "

[1] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), October 22, 2007. The text has been lightly edited.

[2] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), October 15, 2007.