By Greg Sheridan, December 16, 2007.
THIS past week in Israel, where I have been staying for a couple of weeks,
there began what should be a historic process: negotiation of a final settlement
between Israel and the Palestinians.
This is the outcome of the recent Annapolis conference in the US.
Three leaders – US President George W. Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud
Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmood Abbas – have committed
to finding a final settlement within a year.
They have not committed to full implementation of this final settlement
in that time, merely to the conclusion of an agreement on what the terms of the
final settlement will be.
This covers areas such as the amount of territory an independent Palestinian
state will get; the so-called right of return of Palestinian refugees and their
descendants (which Israel interprets as a right of return to a new Palestinian
state and the Palestinians interpret as a right of return to Israel itself), and the
arrangements that will cover Jerusalem.
The obstacles to any settlement are enormous. For a start, the Palestinian
Authority has no jurisdiction over one-third of its population, which lives in the
Gaza Strip under the control of the Islamist terrorist organisation Hamas – an
offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.
But even in the West Bank, the real power of the Palestinian Authority is very
limited. Several West Bank cities are ruled by warlords, not the Authority.
Indeed, Palestinian leaders cannot travel safely in all their own cities and
are not ready to take over security in most of their cities from Israeli security
In truth, the Palestinian Authority does not have functioning state
Outside donors, including Australia, are set to pump an enormous amount of
money into the West Bank to try to improve the quality of life there.
This is designed, in part, to strengthen Mahmood Abbas and to show the
Palestinians that life on the moderate path, in the West Bank, is much better
than life under the extremist path, as in Gaza under Hamas.
The Palestinian Authority, however, shows no signs of re-establishing
control of the Gaza Strip, and it is inconceivable that Israel would allow the
creation of a Palestinian state that did not control both the West Bank and
Many people around the world tell Israel to withdraw to its 1967 borders. Two
years ago, Israel did pull out of Gaza – and the result was that Hamas took over.
Every day now, Hamas terrorists fire rockets – aimed at civilians – from
Gaza into Israel.
Eventually, one of these rockets will kill a large number of Israeli civilians
and there will be a huge Israeli military response inside Gaza.
Whatever Mahmood Abbas thinks of this, or Hamas (some of whom have
pledged to kill him), he would be forced to make an ultra-nationalist response –
and that, in itself, could kill the peace process.
Further, the Annapolis process requires the fulfilment of the conditions of the
so-called Road Map, the very first of which is that the Palestinians stamp out
terrorism and stop attacks on Israeli civilians.
There is no sign the Palestinian Authority can do this, or even that it really
wants to do this. Its educational materials are full of hatred against Israel and
incitement to terrorism.
And that is the fundamental problem. Neither the Palestinian leadership,
nor most of the surrounding Arab states, has really come to grips with Israel’s
right to exist at peace behind secure borders.
Until that happens, no agreement is likely to work on the ground.
So, what should have been an epic week may prove only to have been just
another footnote of failure in the long saga of failure in the Middle East.