Aqaba Summit Raises Doubts rather than a Promising Future

Only a few Palestinians had pinned any real hope on the outcome of the Aqaba Summit. For the majority of Palestinians, the meeting in the picturesque Red Sea resort was just one of many summits-far from their daily reality in both setting and content. The summit, which failed to address the real issues that have fueled the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for decades, increased Palestinian doubts rather than foreshadowing a promising solution. Not surprisingly, the failure to address the key points came from the two parties who hold the power to end this conflict-Israel and the United States.

Still recovering from the reprimand by his right-wing government over the use of the word “occupation” when referring to the Palestinians, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon chose to describe Israel’s military rule over the Palestinians and their land as “governance.” Governance is a subdued term, which rests easier in the Israeli and American psyche, distancing them from the volatile reality of the word occupation. Sharon seems to have been advised that his acknowledgement of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians is an admission that Israel is in violation of international law and conventions, something that the self-proclaimed democracy cannot allow.

This time in his Aqaba speech, Sharon was very careful with his words. While he pledged to remove the “unauthorized” settler outposts, he failed to address the illegal [according to international law] Israeli government-subsidized settlements. There are some 400,000 settlers in over 140 Israeli settlements on the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and in east Jerusalem. These settlements that are built on occupied Palestinian land. The same land that is slated for a future Palestinian state. Still, the United States praised Sharon’s “courage” to take the tough decision to remove a few trailers set up by settlers who took their cue from Sharon in the 90s. It was Sharon who, while serving as minister of infrastructure in the Netanyahu government, called on settlers to grab as much West Bank hilltops as possible to create new facts on the ground. Sharon’s goal was to kill any attempt to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank.

Sharon now claims he understands the need for the territorial contiguity of a Palestinian state. Meanwhile, he continues work on a separation wall that has consumed precious Palestinian territory, territory crucial for the viability of a Palestinian state. It seems that Sharon’s understanding of a Palestinian state is as eccentric as his understanding of the concept of occupation.

For his part, President George W. Bush also derailed what little hope Palestinians had by avoiding the key issues. Bush did not try to sugar-coat the occupation, he simply ignored it. With that, he ignored all the moral and legal standards Israel-as an occupying power-must uphold. By not addressing the occupation as a root-cause of the conflict, Bush has continued down the road of failed U.S. policy in the Middle East. By denying the occupation, Bush is denying the Palestinians their international rights to reclaim their homeland on specified borders and to control their natural resources. Furthermore, he is denying them the right to hold their occupier morally and legally accountable. Instead, it seems that Bush wants the Palestinians to feel indebted to him and to Sharon for their freedom and independence and thus should accept any percentage of contiguous land they are granted.

Bush took another wrong turn on his road to peace when he stated that the United States is committed to a “vibrant Jewish state.” With those words, Bush ignored the fact that 19 percent of Israeli citizens are Palestinians. Furthermore, he sent the issue of Palestinian refugees into permanent exile. If Israel is to remain a Jewish state then the Palestinian Muslim and Christian refugees, who are guaranteed by international resolutions the right to return to their homes, cannot be allowed to be part of that state. The Bush administration has opted to ignore the fact that the issue of the Palestinian right of return was a key factor in the failure of the 2000 Camp David summit with former U.S. President Bill Clinton. A refugee sitting not so far away in Amman, will surely not be optimistic about Bush’s road map, nor will he be convinced that just because he has citizenship [Jordan being the exception] in his host country Bush and Sharon are entitled to negate his right to return home.

And what of the role of the international community? No member of the “Quartet” was represented at the summit, not even the United Nations. The United States has sent the international community on a detour road, stripping the Palestinians from the international support they have turned to and relied on since the start of this conflict. By assigning the role of monitor and coordinator to the U.S. State Department and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Bush has succumbed to Israel’s long-standing position that the international community be excluded from the process.

At a minimum, the international community should be part of the coordinating and monitoring aspect of the road map. This would ease some of the doubts Palestinians have over the success of the road map. An honest monitor during the implementation stages, who will not find excuses for Israeli noncompliance, but will hold all sides equally accountable for their actions could be extremely beneficial for building trust.

Samar Assad is the Publications Manager of the Palestine Center.