THE Middle East Peace Summit in Annapolis, Maryland, made headlines not only in the Middle East, but also in the US and the rest of the world. But the last-minute frenzied media coverage of the talks leading up to the gathering was not a reflection of potential radical changes to the status quo.
More accurately, it acted as another diversion in the face of a persisting Israeli Occupation on the ground, with negotiations giving the impression of two equal sides, making the Israelis look civil as opposed to oppressive. After all, with peace as part of our vocabulary, how can we reconcile talks (or even the very real images of) with a continuing military occupation? It doesn't seem to fit for those far away. But, for Palestinians living in the midst of it all, "peace" and another of its summits is an integral part of the occupier's control matrix.
From the start of the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993, and more so since the Second Intifada in 2000, a picture is painted by the Western mainstream media of an Israeli "defence" against "terrorism" as opposed to an expanding and atrocious occupation that has existed for far longer than the American one in Iraq. The main issue, that of Israeli land lust, has been removed from rhetoric, but not from the ground, thus in Orwellian fashion making the mass scale suppression of an occupied population "non-existent" to the Western public eye in order for it to thrive in practice.
In fact, more settlements have been built in the West Bank since Oslo, and the nearly 700 kilometre "Apartheid Wall", as it is called by Palestinians, was the immediate Israeli project put forth with the start of the Intifada of 2000. The 300 plus Israeli military checkpoints, land confiscation orders, ravaging bulldozers, house demolitions, mass arrests, assassinations and aerial bombardments have become the norm of Israeli policies. The average Palestinian cannot travel a single kilometre without hitting the butt of an Israeli rifle or the life-penetrating gaze of the military jeep, tank, or apache helicopter whose capabilities are both to kill instantaneously, and to maintain a 60-year-old structure of domination that aims at eliminating an entire nation.
Let us look further behind the scenes, where the real story often lies. The Bush administration, with its business-led ideological drive to reshape the region from Iran to Iraq to Syria and Lebanon, is making a final attempt before elections to mould the geopolitical map further in its favour. A handshake by Abbas with Olmert because of the importance of the Palestinian Cause to Arabic public opinion gives further legitimacy to cooperation with the US and Israel, thus pushing once again to the background the Palestinian popular outcry. Simply put, attendance at the summit, or for that matter any agreements made, translates into US moneys and inclusion into an American-led order. There is always a scramble for joining the only game in town, whether for funding and political power, or for fear of US-Israeli retribution if you are branded an enemy of peace.
Thus, another critical facet of the summit is to send a message to the Palestinian people, many of whom have faced increased forced starvation and military onslaught since the Hamas victory against the Fatah Oslo-elites as aid was cut off, that humanitarian relief only comes when your leaders are the ones who cooperate with the US and its ally Israel. Israelis have ensured since 1967 when the West Bank and Gaza Strip were occupied, but especially after the signing of the peace accords and the subsequent strangling Wall, that no viable Palestinian economy stands, and thus dependence on aid flourishes. This is meant to serve Israeli interests. The meeting in Annapolis functions as a nefarious reminder to Palestinians, young and old, that if you want the aid tap to be re-opened, even for a few rice-sack droplets, our man Abbas should be yours. Democracy, like peace, is tied to the strings of Uncle Sam.
Today, while talk of a future Palestinian "state" persists, never has the West Bank looked so plague-ridden with soldiers, military bases, settlers, settlements, bypass roads, surveillance towers and checkpoints (now expanding into full-fledged terminals). Small gestures that may exude hope for an international audience during the summit will mean little more to Palestinians than another success, in this case led by US President Bush and Israeli PM Olmert, to redirect attention from what is taking place on the ground. This ensures that the wheels of occupation keep churning. What it also signifies is another attempt by Israel to silence the actual demands of the Palestinian people, drowned out by the deceit of peace, for the right of return of 5,000,000 Palestinian refugees. In all actuality, for Palestinians, the eve of the summit is expected to be no different from the morning after, as more of the same awaits them.
Galit Gelbort, an American, spent six years in the West Bank working with Palestinian NGOs throughout the Second Intifada period. She has edited a number of publications on Palestinians and Israeli occupation policies. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org