In the interest of full disclosure, let me start by saying that The Obnoxious American is of Jewish heritage and faith and a strong supporter of the state of Israel. Upon first hearing about the Annapolis conference between Israel and most Arab states, I had a near immediate feeling of deja vu.
About eight years ago, former President Clinton tried running the same play, a last ditch effort to bolster his flailing legacy. Then as now, it wasn't at all clear how the President's tenure would be tallied amongst the great leaders of this country's past. It's a shame that selfish desires drive such noble efforts, but that is the American way after all.
The problem with Annapolis, with the US led roadmap to peace, doesn't lie with the US. Although now, as then, when (not if) it fails it will be laid at the feet of the President.
The other problem with Annapolis is that it gives legitimacy to the gripes of America and Israel's enemies. CNN and other American mainstream media were happy to report that "Israel is 'ready' for a deal", saying that the only sticking points were merely the fate of Jerusalem, the right of return, and the labeling of Israel as a Jewish state. Sounds pretty innocuous right?
It's worth noting that Israel has always been ready to work out some sort of agreement with the Palestinians, in hopes that the never-ending barrage of missiles being shot over its border, and the drumbeat of terrorists attacks on its civilians would stop. No news there. In fact, during the last eight or so years of the Palestinians' destructive intifada, Israel has tried releasing prisoners, turning over settlements, making peace arrangements, all to no avail. Furthermore, as far as I can remember, the specific issues that have been identified in Annapolis have always existed.
Not to say that Israel has been perfect. When provoked, there have been times where the response could have been more measured. That said, when you are being slowly victimized sometimes you act out of turn. However, even when the response has been outsized, Israel still showed restraint. They have the military power to completely decimate the Palestinians. They haven't.
One need only look to the time before this most recent intifada (called incidentally by the Palestinians) to see Palestinians making up a good percentage of the Israeli work force (i.e. mid-nineties). Israelis are like us; ultimately, they want peace and a good economy. Like most westernized nations, they are not bent on destruction or religious ideology and for this reason, they are open to a peaceful resolution to the I/P conflict without pushing all Palestinians into the sea. Unfortunately, I'm not sure the same can be said for the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world.
Let's start with the question of labeling Israel a Jewish state. Critics argue that Jews, while the vast majority of Israel's populace, are not the only people living within its borders; both Christians and Muslims and a few others live in Israel. Of course, the nations of Afghanistan, Iran, Mauritania, and Pakistan all have "Islamic republic" in their full name while also hosting minorities of other religions. In fact, a small minority of Jews happen to live in Iran, but for some reason, they aren't complaining.
Many more countries that don't have Islamic Republic in their name practice sharia, Islamic law, as their legal system, even though they also host minorities from other religions. Sharia has a pretty big impact on these minorities as Dhimmis (non-Muslims living under sharia) tend to have fewer rights than Muslims do.
The fact is that Israel was first mandated by the League of Nations following World War One as a "national home for the Jewish people," and the U.N. in 1947 expanded on this by approving the partition of the state of Israel. Israel is a Jewish state just like Iran is an Islamic republic. Putting aside the obvious hypocrisy of this "concern," what possible reason would Arab nations have with this "labeling?" Simple — Palestinians Muslims can't claim a right of return to a state that is explicitly Jewish, can they?
Right of return sounds rather innocuous. After all with all this partitioning 70 years ago, surely some people were displaced and should be able to reclaim the lands that were once theirs, right? In reality, right of return is a synonym for the end of Israel. Does anyone really believe that there would be one square kilometer left for Jews if right of return was granted for Palestinians? Maybe in Manhattan but certainly nowhere in the Middle East. It's worth noting that while Arab nations taking part in the summit show deep concern and commitment for their Palestinian brothers, and while they fully support Palestinian right to return to Israel, these same Arab nations have never been willing to let Palestinians take refuge within their own borders or help the Palestinians develop a real infrastructure within the borders that they do have (Gaza, West Bank). That is, unless you consider Quassams and plastique to be "infrastructure."
Let's talk about Jerusalem. This is a city that hosts the single most holy place for Jews on earth, namely the Temple Mount and the Wailing Wall. Jewish history in Jerusalem dates back thousands of years BC. It's significance to Jews is part and parcel of why the League of Nations and the United Nations chose this area as the home of the Jewish people. Jerusalem is the birthplace of Christ, the site at which he was crucified, and is home to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a pilgrimage destination for Christians since the fourth century (incidentally two hundred years before anyone ever practiced Islam). While there are two significant Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem as well, Islam's most highly revered holy sites are Mecca and Medina, in Saudi Arabia.
It's important to recognize that Jerusalem is significant to Jews, Christians and Muslims, and to be fair, much more significant to the first two. Clearly the question of the fate of Jerusalem isn't soley an Arab question. Yet it's as if Islamic holy sites are being used more for their strategic positioning than the faith they bring to the Islam,
The last major issue is the question of the 1967 borders and of the settlements. Much has been made in the media of Israel's seemingly imperialist settlement building outside of the borders of Israel. But take into account Israel's history, one where in the 70 or so years of Israel's existence, they've been attacked by every neighboring country. The settlements are viewed in Israel as the first responders and alerters to any new such attack. Israel expanded their borders in 1967 in an effort to better defend themselves against these types of attacks. In fact, while we commonly refer to this expansion as the pre or post 1967 borders, it's important to note that 1967 wasn't just the summer of love – the border redraw was spurred by the Six Day War in which Syria, Jordan and Egypt, along with much of the rest of the Middle East, attacked Israel and lost. The border redraw, the settlements, wouldn't be necessary if the constant threat of war from Israel's neighbors didn't exist. Self preservation anyone?
Let me say that I fully support a Palestinian state. I think that there have been plenty of injustices carried out against the Palestinian people, some by the Israelis. However, the reverse can be said of the state of Israel and the Jewish people. Israel is here to stay and for there to ever be peace in the Middle East, the Arab world needs to accept and welcome Israel as a permanent neighbor. To do otherwise just means more struggle, more innocent people dying, and more problems for the rest of the world. Unfortunately, given the issues that have been raised in Annapolis, I think that the majority of the attendees aren't really interested in a peace that includes the state of Israel.