When the Bush administration first let it be known that it was planning a major “peace conference” between Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian president Mahmood Abbas, administration sources told journalists that it would be a Middle Eastern equivalent of the Dayton conference that ended the Bosnian war in 1994. That consisted of weeks of “shuttle diplomacy” with all parties virtually locked in until agreement was reached, which was never realistic in this case. As the Annapolis conference approached, some sense of realism has intruded on the neo-cons’ grandiose plans; by the time the conference opened on November 26, Bush was defining the object of the talks as being to persuade everyone to accept the principle of a two-state solution, which has already been accepted by all parties in any case. Setting low targets is one way of ensuring that the conference can be proclaimed a success, to offset the continuing disquiet over the US’s performance in Iraq, which is Bush’s main concern in the year before the year’s presidential elections.
What remains to be seen is what form will be proposed for the “Palestinian state”. When the Oslo Accords first raised the possibility of Israel conceding some degree of Palestinian statehood, the Israelis made it absolutely clear that the state they envisaged would be little more than an Israeli protectorate in those parts of the West Bank that Israel did not particularly want, rather than a genuinely independent and sovereign state in the whole of the areas occupied by Israel in 1967. The subsequent decade-and-a-half has been been dominated by two major dynamics: Israel’s efforts to change the geo-political map of Palestine by building settlements, roads and other permanent infrastructure designed to ensure that it can maintain direct or indirect control over as much of the West Bank as possible; and determined Palestinian resistance designed both to obstruct this Israeli effort, and to force the Israelis to agree to a more genuine form of independence and statehood for the Palestinians than they would like.
The term now being emphasised in the peace talks is that the Palestinian state must be “viable”; in other words, must have a degree of autonomy acceptable to the Palestinians and some prospect of economic and social prosperity in order to persuade them to support it. That, however, is still very far from genuine sovereignty and independence; and it is this, as much as the fact thatIsrael is still expanding its settlements with impunity and killing Palestinians at will, is why Hamas and most Palestinians have few hopes of Annapolis or whatever process may emerge from it.
Contrary to Israeli propaganda, Hamas and the Palestinians do not threaten Israel’s existence. They refuse, on principle, to accept its right to exist as a colonial settler state built on the basis of the genocide of the Palestinian people, but they recognise that the geo-political changes of the last 60 years cannot simply be reversed. Hamas has repeatedly stated that it will agree a long-term ceasefire (“hudna”) with Israel provided they withdraw from the lands occupied in 1967 and stop their attacks on the Palestinian people. This would be the basis of a genuine “peace process”, supported and accepted by all parties, if the US and Israel really wanted one; it would be based on concessions from both parties, and have a genuine prospect of long-term success.
But that is not what the US and Israel really want, which is why it was not considered necessary for any genuine Palestinian leaders or representatives to have a voice at the conference. The US/Israeli objective is not a genuine peace process, but the achievement of their maximum objectives by persuading the Palestinians to accept a surrender thinly disguised as an agreement. This will not happen, as everyone knows; and they also know that when it does not happen, Israel will resort once again to pursuing its objectives militarily, killing ever more Palestinians in the process.