US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is at it again talking up the prospects of ending the 140 years old Arab-Jewish conflict by the adoption of a two state solution involving the creation of an Arab state between Jordan and Israel - the 23rd Arab State in the world should it ever eventuate.
This crowd pleasing prediction of peace has been made by Ms Rice despite four fruitless years of intense international diplomacy to achieve just that solution by America, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union - the Quartet - under their meticulously detailed and crafted Roadmap first published in 2003.
The United Nations News Service heralded the Roadmap at the time as a:
"performance-based and goal-driven roadmap, with clear phases, timelines, target dates, and benchmarks aiming at progress through reciprocal steps by the two parties in the political, security, economic, humanitarian, and institution-building fields, under the auspices of the Quartet. The destination is a final and comprehensive settlement of the Israel-Palestinian conflict by 2005, as presented in President Bush’s speech of 24 June, and welcomed by the EU, Russia and the UN in the 16 July and 17 September Quartet Ministerial statements.”
Not one of these goals has been remotely achieved - an abysmal failure by anyone’s standards -especially given the amount of political, financial and diplomatic clout vested in the Quartet"
Yet speaking at a joint media conference on 2 August with Mahmoud Abbas - the Palestinian Authority (PA) President and Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Executive Chairman - Ms Rice was decidedly upbeat when she said:
“I want to note that we will have a discussion about the political discussions that you are having on a bilateral basis with [Israel’s] Prime Minister Olmert. The Prime Minister said to me that he looks forward to continued discussions with you and that he is ready to discuss the fundamental issues that will lead to negotiations soon for the creation of a Palestinian state. And I know that that is your desire too, and the United States wants to support that bilateral track.”
When asked by an inquiring reporter as to what those “fundamental issues” might be, Ms Rice gave this remarkable reply:
“ I believe that the word “fundamental” speaks for itself. And the desire to move toward a two- state solution seems to me to be there on both sides, and there are a lot of issues that are going to have to be discussed in order to get to a two-state solution.”
Sorry Ms Rice - every conceivable “fundamental issue” there is - and that you seem even too frightened to specifically identify - was discussed in detail in 2000 at Camp David and Taba in negotiations between President Bill Clinton, then PA and PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israel’s then Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
Those negotiations led to the rejection of the two state solution offered by Israel in 90% of the West Bank and Gaza and effectively ended any prospect of the two state solution ever becoming a reality unless there was a total revolution in the thinking of the PA and the PLO.
One of the fundamental issues on which those negotiations foundered was the failure of Mr Arafat to recognise any political rights of the Jews to sovereignty in any part of the West Bank and Gaza - a policy that had been maintained by the PLO without change since 1964, by the PA since its formation in 1994 and by Mr Abbas as head of both organisations to this very day.
Those political rights were recognised by France and Great Britain in 1920, formalised by unanimous vote of all 51 members of the League of Nations in 1922, endorsed by a joint resolution of both Houses of the Congress of the United States in the same year, and preserved by the United Nations Charter in 1945.
The Quartet’s failure to insist on these international agreements being recognised and accepted by the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organisation remains one of the principal causes for the Quartet’s Roadmap collapsing into the total chaos it is today.
Statements such as Ms Rice’s are just diplomatic doublespeak, empty grandstanding and devoid of reality. They only serve to hold those making them open to ridicule and loss of credibility as the objective they so earnestly desire - the Quartet’s two state solution - continues to elude them.
It is surely time for Ms Rice to put the following questions to Mr Abbas to determine whether he is really sincere in his desire for a two state solution.
1. Does the Palestinian Authority accept and recognise the legality of
(i) Article 6 of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine giving the Jews the right to closely settle State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes in the West Bank?
(ii) Article 80 of the United Nations Charter which preserves the above right?
(iii) Security Council Resolution 242 - which does not require Israel to withdraw from all the territories occupied in the Six Day War and recognises Israel’s right to live in peace within secure and recognised boundaries?
2. Does the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the Palestinian Authority recognise the existence of the State of Israel and have they abandoned violence and armed struggle against Israel?
3. If the answer to 2 is “yes” - when will Mr Abbas call a meeting of the Palestinian National Council to revoke articles 2, 3, 6-10, 13-23 and 30 of the PLO Charter- all of which are in direct conflict with the principles laid out in question 2.
If Ms Rice can get a positive response from Mr Abbas to these crucial questions, she might well be able to make a meaningful statement on the future of the Quartet’s two state solution.
If she is too embarrassed to put these questions to Mr Abbas or is too afraid to hear the answers, then maybe she can get Mr Olmert to ask them during his “political discussions” with Mr Abbas.
If neither wants to take the plunge then maybe someone in the press corps might be emboldened or even induced to put these questions to Mr Abbas at one of his next media conferences. The answers will certainly create front page headlines no matter what response is evoked.
Until these questions are answered one thing is crystal clear - any hope of the Quartet’s two state solution ever eventuating is doomed to failure.