The US State Department and others in the Bush Administration aren’t stupid. Yet, they supposedly believe that the Annapolis conference will bring peace. Efraim Inbar lists five false premises on which this initiative is based:
The first is that Palestinian society can be reformed by outsiders. Middle Eastern societies have already proven their resistance to attempts by Western powers to change their old ways of doing business. It is naïve to believe that political and social dynamics rooted in centuries-old traditions can be easily manipulated by well-intentioned, but presumptuous Westerners. President George W. Bush should have learned this lesson from his experience in Iraq…
…second… that economic assistance to the Palestinians can alleviate political problems. Since the Oslo Accords in September 1993, the Palestinian Authority has received the most economic aid per capita in the world. Yet billions of euros transferred to the PA have been squandered or misused. Like some other Third World actors, the PA has been ingenious in siphoning a not insignificant amount of the aid it gets to those least in need of outside support…
…third… that Mahmoud Abbas can become the agent for change and therefore he deserves the support of the West… The Hamas takeover of Gaza is an obvious indication of his weakness.
…fourth… that Palestinian society can be quickly transformed into a good neighbor of Israel and that a stable settlement is within reach. Since the Oslo Accords, the PA’s education system, media, and dramatic militarization process has done great damage to the collective Palestinian psyche… Numerous facets of Palestinian society have been radicalized and the widespread influence and popularity of Hamas is a clear indication of such a process… What they expect to get from Israel is totally unrealistic… Palestinian demands for bringing refugees from 60 years ago and their descendents into Israel and for control over parts of old Jerusalem are simply not acceptable in today’s Israel.
…fifth… that Hamas control of Gaza can be uprooted by intra-Palestinian politics. While Hamas’s takeover of Gaza is correctly identified by the US as a victory for the Islamist forces in the Middle East and inimical to Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement, a Fatah led by Abbas cannot bring Hamas back under the PA umbrella.
OK, so it won’t fly. But as I said, they are not stupid. So why are they trying to launch it?
One word: Iraq. There is nothing more important to the US than a non-disastrous exit from Iraq, and two of the major players in the upcoming conference (they are not Israel and the Palestinians) hold what appear to be the keys. I’m talking about Saudi Arabia and Syria, of course.
Recently, there has been a phenomenon of Iraqi Sunni support for US operations against foreign Sunni insurgents associated with al-Qaeda. This is being called the first sign of real progress for the US in Iraq. As the major Sunni power in the region, Saudi Arabia can certainly influence the Iraqi tribal leaders; and they can reduce the infiltration of foreign insurgents (most of whom are Saudis). Recent improvements in the situation in Iraq indicate that perhaps they have already begun to exert their influence.
In return, the Saudis want their vision of the future of the former Palestine Mandate — the Saudi/Arab League initiative — to be imposed on Israel. In this way they, not Iran, will be the ones to finally put the Jews in their place, and they will take their rightful position as the leader of the Arab world. And President Bush’s recent speech indicates that the US views this plan positively.
Syria’s contribution is quite simple. They are the major suppliers of arms to the Sunni insurgents, and both fighters and supplies pass through their porous border. Former head of the Coalition Provisional authority L. Paul Bremer accused Bashar Assad of inciting Shiite factions to wage jihad against US and British forces. What Washington wants of them today is, in Bush’s immortal words, to “Stop doing this shit!”
And what Syria wants is also simple: the Golan Heights, without having to give Israel anything in return; and a free hand to exploit Lebanon.
The Arabists in the State Department that are pushing this plan are doing their best to convince others in the Administration that it will not seriously damage Israel’s security, and that it will enable the US to get out of Iraq without leaving a violent civil war in its wake. Inbar and others have argued persuasively that the first proposition is false.
Regarding the second, we need merely ask: what incentive will Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran have to behave themselves once US forces have gone?