[Published 25 March 2013]
President Obama’s use of just one word - “Annapolis” - stands out among the thousands he uttered during his three day visit to Jerusalem, Ramallah and Amman.
His highly significant use of this keyword on 21 March at the Jerusalem International Convention Centre constituted a diplomatic milestone in America’s quest to end the long running Jewish-Arab conflict.
"I know Israel has taken risks for peace. Brave leaders – Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin – reached treaties with two of your neighbors. You made credible proposals to the Palestinians at Annapolis. You withdrew from Gaza and Lebanon, and then faced terror and rockets."
What were the “credible proposals” made to the Palestinians at Annapolis?
Why was the mention of “Annapolis” thought far more important to include in President Obama’ speech - rather than “Camp David” and the attempts to broker a two-state solution between Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat by President Clinton in 2000?
The answer is to be found in the following statement made by Israel’s then Prime Minister - Ehud Olmert - at the international conference convened by President Bush on 27 November 2007 in Annapolis in the presence of some 40 world leaders including many from the Arab world:
"The (resumption of) negotiations will be based on previous agreements between us, UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, the Roadmap and the April 14th 2004 letter of President Bush to the Prime Minister of Israel.
On conclusion of the negotiations, I believe that we will be able to reach an agreement which will fulfill the vision of President Bush: two states for two peoples.
A peace-seeking, viable, strong, democratic and terror-free Palestinian state for the Palestinian people.
A Jewish, democratic State of Israel, living in security and free from the threat of terror – the national home of the Jewish people."
President Obama’s Jerusalem speech is the closest he has come to publicly acknowledging that the following commitments laid out in President Bush’s letter to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on 14 April 2004 constitute “credible proposals” to end the Jewish-Arab conflict:
1. As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338.Yet President Obama has appeared to have given up one fundamental requirement of President Bush’s Road Map - that any Palestinian Arab state that emerges as part of the two-state solution must be “democratic”
2. The United States is strongly committed to Israel’s security and well-being as a Jewish state.
3. It seems clear that an agreed, just, fair, and realistic framework for a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of any final status agreement will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel.
4. In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion.
5. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.
In a carefully worded and crafted speech that spoke in glowing terms of Israel’s vibrant democracy - President Obama was noticeably silent in failing to endorse the same outcome as being necessary for the successful implementation and conclusion of President Bush’s two-state solution.
To this extent President Obama seems to have rejected as unnecessary the express Annapolis commitment made by Prime Minister Olmert to achieve one of President Bush’s most cherished objectives.
The PLO will no doubt see this concession by President Obama as a plus - since it appears to be the inevitable consequence of Hamas and the PLO being unable to end their six years long internecine struggle that has denied the Palestinian Arabs having any say in determining their own future.
America is apparently set on pressuring Israel to give up this demand as a condition of resolving the two-state solution.
Yet in another respect President Obama’s following statement has come down firmly in favour of the commitment made by President Bush in his letter to Prime Minister Sharon - endorsed in specific terms by Prime Minister Olmert at Annapolis - that the Arab world - and Jew-haters around the world - recognize that the Jewish people are entitled to a Jewish state in their ancient, historic and biblically recognized homeland.
"For the Jewish people, the journey to the promise of the State of Israel wound through countless generations. It involved centuries of suffering and exile, prejudice, pogroms and even genocide. Through it all, the Jewish people sustained their unique identity and traditions, as well as a longing to return home. And while Jews achieved extraordinary success in many parts. of the world, the dream of true freedom finally found its full expression in the Zionist idea – to be a free people in your homeland.
That is why I believe that Israel is rooted not just in history and tradition, but also in a simple and profound idea: the idea that people deserve to be free in a land of their own. And over the last 65 years, when Israel has been at its best, Israelis have demonstrated that responsibility does not end when you reach the promised land, it only begins."
President Obama reinforced that message with an unequivocal one liner:
"Palestinians must recognize that Israel will be a Jewish state."
The steadfast refusal by the Palestinian Arabs and the Arab world at large to acknowledge this simple proposition has been the major impediment to peace ever since its possibility was first suggested in 1920 at the San Remo Conference and confirmed in the 1922 Mandate for Palestine - then actually proposed in 1937 by the Peel Commission and endorsed by the United Nations in 1947.
Are the Palestinian Arabs now seriously ready to take up President Obama’s challenge to resolve their conflict with the Jews in accordance with the credible proposals made by Israel at Annapolis in 2007 - tempered with just one important concession by President Obama dispensing with the need for any agreement on the question of democracy?
That is the message President Obama has sent to President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad - persons whom President Obama personally identified as true partners for Israel in achieving the two-state solution during his Jerusalem speech.
I hope we will not have to wait too long for their answer.