In the Mideast, everything depends on your definition of peace
It was four years ago that the last White House-sponsored Middle East peace conference was held at Annapolis, Maryland, on Nov. 27, 2007. It produced smiles and hugs, along with joint communiqués. The closest friends don’t hug half as much as mortal enemies do at international gatherings. If counterfeiting affection were a crime, three-quarters of the diplomatic corps would be in jail.
Still, perhaps the most refreshing thing about the Annapolis peace conference was that it was almost illusion-free. Unlike Madrid, Oslo, Wye River and similar chimeras conjured up under the optimistic tutelage of U.S. presidents as different as strait-laced Bush the Elder and mellow Bill Clinton, the curtain rose on George W. Bush’s last-ditch attempt in a mood of total sobriety.
No one expected anything from Annapolis: Not the Americans convening it, not the Middle Easterners observing it and certainly not the Palestinians and Israelis sitting around a U-shaped table in a frescoed hall underneath the chandeliers of the U.S. Naval Academy.
In 2007 most people saw a factor that only a few noticed in the 1980s and 1990s. For peace-negotiations to succeed, it’s not enough for both sides to want peace in the abstract. They must also ascribe the same meaning to the term — and the two sides in the Middle East do not. Israel wants peace and so does the Arab/Muslim world, but Israel wants peace with the Arab/Muslim world and the Arab/Muslim world wants peace without Israel.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, many people failed to see what seemed self-evident to a few, namely that for the Palestinian leadership the “peace-process” was a mere ruse de guerre. When the late Yasser Arafat stepped unto the world’s stage, he made no bones about it at first. “The end of Israel is the goal of our struggle,” he had told the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci in 1972. “Peace for us means the destruction of Israel and nothing else.”