Hussein Solomon
Hussein Solomon

Middle East peace summit: Time to turn the screws on Olmert

At the time of writing, it would seem that the proposed United States-sponsored Middle East peace summit will be taking place in Annapolis, Maryland, on November 15 this year. This is an important initiative and needs to be supported by all in the Middle East and the international community. The reason for this should be obvious to all: the Israel-Palestinian conflict is a festering sore at the heart of the Middle East that is fanning the flames of radicalism from which organisations like al-Qaeda can draw fresh recruits.

This is a point well made by Jordan’s King Abdullah in his address to the US Congress. To undercut this radicalism, the hopes and aspirations of the long-suffering Palestinian people for their own independent state needs to be realised. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict therefore is both a strategic and a moral issue that needs to be resolved speedily.

The US administration needs to be commended with resources it has quickly put into the summit’s planning. This is most graphically seen in the number of trips US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been making to the Middle East. She has made clear that the summit must be substantive and that the two sides must draft a document before the talks to lay the foundations for serious negotiations. To this end, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have met on numerous occasions in the run-up to the summit.

The seriousness with which the Palestinians are approaching the summit is obvious to all. Abbas has already informed Rice of the composition of the Palestinian negotiating team, which will be headed by Ahmed Qureia, a former Palestinian prime minister who also led interim talks with Israel in the 1990s.

Abbas also made clear the end state he desires: “ending the Israeli occupation of our lands that began in 1967, in conforming with international law, the road map, the vision of US President Bush, the Arab initiative and signed accords”. He went further and stated that the time is right “for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital, and for living side by side in peace and security with the state of Israel”. To this end, Abbas and his team have been working on detailed plans in preparation for the peace summit.

At face value, it would seem that Olmert is equally serious about the summit. After all, in his speech to the Israeli Knesset in October he stated boldly that the time for making excuses for not talking to the Palestinian leadership was over and that he intended to devote the coming year to promoting peace with the Palestinians.

However, actions do speak a thousand words and in his meetings with Abbas he has been decidedly vague about the substance of peace proposals, whereas Abbas quite rightly wanted greater details. Moreover, despite the pending peace summit, Israeli land confiscations are continuing. This time it was the West Bank village of al-Akkaba that was served with demolition orders by the Israeli army for being in a “militarized zone” and building “without planning permission”.

Such vagueness about peace proposals and the ongoing demolitions of Palestinian villages while illegal Israeli settlements mushroom runs counter to the spirit of peace. It is essential that the international community and especially Washington put greater pressure on Olmert to understand the important principle that peace is impossible without compromise.