Annapolis – A footnote in history

Clayton Swisher, Al Jazeera’s US policy analyst and author of The Truth About Camp David, explores the forthcomimg US-hosted meeting that aims to initiate Palestinian-Israeli dialogue.

The decision by all Arab governments – including Saudi Arabia and Syria – to partake in the Annapolis meeting is a significant advance, and likely to form a footnote in history. Unfortunately, I believe that is as far as it will go.

There are three primary reasons why I do not believe the Annapolis meeting will succeed in establishing a Palestinian state by the end of the US president’s term in office.

The first is that this is not George Bush’s clearly stated objective. Whatever Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, may intend, it is the president who is in charge.

Little understanding

Bush’s beliefs are steadfast, and they reflect little understanding of Palestinian realities: On the one hand, Bush seeks mileage out of the false claim that he is the first US president to call for the creation of a Palestinian state, and he emphasises his plans to “lay the foundation” for the said state.

On the other hand, he acts as if that state had already been created when he demands the fulfilment of near-impossible conditions from a people living under a brutal, 40-year occupation.

The world has heard how the Palestinian Authority must internally reform; more vigorously “fight terror” (ie crush Hamas, give up resistance to occupation and do Israel’s security bidding); “elect new leaders” (ie ones palatable to the United States); pursue democracy (ie broadly defined as empowering the losing party’s armed forces so they can confront legitimately elected opponents); and provide basic services to the local population.

Then, perhaps, if the “behaviour” of the Palestinians reaches Olympian standards, Bush might “spend capital” he has built with Israel and force it to abandon Palestinian land.

Weak claims

The next reason is that the Bush administration has an extraordinarily poor ability – or is it willingness? – to bring about the outcome it claims to seek.

Set aside, momentarily, the seemingly endless quagmire in Iraq, the growing Taliban strength in Afghanistan, the constitutional crisis in Lebanon and the dangerous confrontation with Iran, and consider Palestine alone.

Is it reasonable to expect that this administration will compel Israel to withdraw to the June 4, 1967 lines, or even anywhere close to them, when to this day it has not even been able to get Israel to withdraw to the positions it held on September 28, 2000 – the eve of the second intifada? Then there is Bush’s “road map” in 2003 which called for a Palestinian state by 2005.

Enough said, though it is important to note that the road map was devised to blunt international criticism of the US for abetting Israel’s horrendously disproportionate attacks against the Palestinian population at the time.

Your Views

“The talks will prove that you cannot talk peace without the participation of the elected representatives of the Palestinian people”

Niloufar, Tehran, Iran

Send us your views

The US was in “fight terror” mode following the 9-11 attacks, and its war machine was zeroing in on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The road map thus had more to do with lessening scepticism among “moderate” Arab governments to join the “coalition of the willing” against Iraq as they could show their domestic critics that America cared about Palestine.

If more language emphasising Palestinian statehood does emerge from the US, Israel, and Arab governments from Annapolis, one can only wonder at the degree to which history is repeating itself with Iran.

Even if Bush could be replaced by hard-charging Rice – and he cannot – her own credit rating when it comes to deliverables is shot. To evade the road map, the detailed proposal for a two-state solution known as the Geneva Initiative, and the refusal by reserve Israeli pilots and commandos to partake in the wanton killings of Palestinians, Ariel Sharon, Israel’s former prime minister, countered with his Gaza disengagement plan.

By offloading 8,000 or so Jewish settlers there who had hijacked the lives of 1.4 million Palestinians, Israel was able to win the admiration of Washington. When the international community replied, as well as Israeli courts, that effective control of Gaza had not been relinquished by Israel – that the Gaza occupation still legally remained, secretary Rice appeared in November 2005 to broker the Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA).

She failed miserably in her first test of pressing Israel on performance: In violation of that agreement, not a single busload of Palestinians ever made it from Gaza to the West Bank, while Palestinian harvests never made it to the market.

A Pollyannaish few believed that after disengagement, Gaza would become a vibrant economic powerhouse, like Dubai. Indifference to the AMA, plus America’s decision to punish the entire population of Gaza for democratically electing Hamas, is why Gaza today more resembles Mogadishu.

Hamas exclusion

The final reason the Annapolis meeting will come to nothing is that it excludes Hamas.

Though it is difficult to prove this through poll results, there is no reason to believe that support for Hamas and the Islamic parties throughout the region has fallen. In fact, I sense the opposite is true. And the secular nationalist parties that have received US support may also have seen a drastic drop in domestic popularity.

Market forces here in the Middle East are moving with a moderate version of political Islam, not against it.

As always, Washington will be late in recognising this fact. In the span of a year, Washington and its international partners hope to inject Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, with political steroids.

How? By standing up the West Bank economically with direct aid, agricultural initiatives and micro-loans (recall the Gaza-Dubai pipedreams).

The thinking is that Hamas, or at least those suffering under its rule, will realise the failure of its politics and convert to Fatah.

Meanwhile, it is also hoped that a weakened Abbas will be able to extract from Israel the terms of a final-status agreement that a much stronger Yassir Arafat was not able to obtain, and sell it not only to his own supporters but also to the Palestinian refugee community in the Diaspora.

I wish secretary Rice and her team the best at Annapolis. But, unlike them, I know that wishing is not enough.

Ref: Al Jazeera

Maale Adumim, a flagship settlement in the West Bank

Built in 1975, Maale Adumim is classified as a high priority development area and accordingly receives considerable state aid. It is situated on the outskirts of Jerusalem and, with 25,000 inhabitants in 1999, has become the largest Israeli settlement in the West Bank. The policy of creeping settlement is aimed at consolidating the illegal annexation of East Jerusalem and making the emergence of a Palestinian state even more difficult.

See article by Eitan Felner, “Creeping annexation of the West Bank”, Novembre 1999.

Sources : Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP), Washington, D.C.

Israeli territorial proposals (dec 2000)

israel proposal

Drawn up by the Jerusalem Task Force from Orient House, this map shows Israel’s “territorial concessions” made to the Palestinians at the Camp David summit of July 2000, according to information from the Palestinian delegation to the summit.

Ref: Le Monde

Millions of Palestinian refugees in the Middle East

pal refugees

Of the 3.6 million Palestinian refugees in the Middle East in June 1999, a third were living in camps. Of these, more than half were living outside Palestine, mostly in Jordan, which is the main host country. The question of the right of return, which arose after the first wave of exile in 1948-49, is mainly of concern to these refugees.

Sources : UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Ref: Le Monde

US, the UN’s main debtor


un veto

The alternative UN
What kind of new worldwide organisation could be established that would truly defend humankind’s common resources and limit the major powers? Here are some suggestions for further debate…

UN how it works

Ref: Le Monde

Washington sets out to conquer “virgin territory”

“At the end of March President Bill Clinton will be making his first visit to Africa. Just as the ex-colonial powers are apparently retiring from the scene, at a loss to come up with any constructive ideas, the United States is starting to focus on the continent as one of the last virgin territories for US investors. If Nelson Mandela has set the pace in South Africa, there are plenty of other success stories in terms of political “reliability”. As economies are growing, Africa is now ripe for integration into the US-style market economy.
By Philippe Leymarie

The French government has been cutting back on its technical assistance staff in Africa for a number of years and now it is effectively closing down its ministry for cooperation. President Clinton, on the other hand, has decided, in spite of the budgetary constraints of recent years, to increase its Peace Corps complement from 6,500 to 10,000. As one of the most popular of Washington’s foreign aid organisations, the corps is already active in around thirty African countries.

It is a symbolic gesture by the United States, now given to declaiming its new-found enthusiasm for Africa. In the early 1990s, having just shaken off the ideological and strategic constraints of the cold war, it began to rediscover Africa (1) and this year it is looking on it more than ever as one of its “new frontiers”.

Mr Clinton’s tour of five African countries – including South Africa, at the invitation of Nelson Mandela – is the climax of a series of ambitious initiatives. In his “State of the Union” speech on 27 January, the president referred to the African Growth and Opportunity Act, to be passed shortly with the backing of both parties. This will reduce or abolish customs barriers for 1,800 products from sub-Saharan Africa and will compete with the Lomé Convention between the European Union member states and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, which has run into difficulties in the early stages of its renegotiation (3).

In a letter sent to the chairmen of parliamentary committees in 1997 (4), together with the third of five annual White House reports on trade with Africa, the president listed the main features of this partnership for growth. It will mainly benefit countries which develop their democratic structures, reform their trade regulations and make full use of their human resources. He stressed the importance of trade, i.e. activity in the private sector. The aim is to give African exports better access to the US market. Technical assistance is to be stepped up, particularly for trade. Incentives will be offered to American private investors (5), the bilateral debt of the poorest countries will be cancelled and African and American leaders will meet at annual economic forums and ministerial conferences.

Changing the trade framework
Speaking to African representatives from the civil aviation industry, the US secretary for transport, Rodney Slater, put it more bluntly. The plan was very simple: Washington wanted access to the markets and it wanted African countries to have access to the US market as well (6).

President Clinton has finally come out in support of commercial diplomacy. “Trade, not aid” is now the dominant theme in the United States. George Munoz, who deals with US investment promotion, sees Africa as an important market waiting to be developed. The African trade law is the brainchild of the Democrat Charles Rangel, who points out that Africa is the only part of the world in which the US has not really invested or made any efforts to promote trade. At a recent mayoral conference on Africa, Susan Rice, the deputy secretary of state for African affairs, spoke enthusiastically about this huge and growing market of about 700 million people which has still hardly been explored, with its huge and as yet unexploited wealth and the potential to create jobs [in the US] (7).

The aim of breaking into Africa’s markets also has a political dimension. Ms Rice points out that the number of countries south of the Sahara which have democratic governments has quintupled in the last ten years: twenty-five countries now have a form of democracy. In the words of the South African vice-president, Thabo Mbeki, this is an African renaissance.

Congressman Charles Rangel, one of the most militant black advocates of this “return” to Africa, says that the US wants to help Africa’s development by creating a new framework. Edward Royce, the powerful Republican chairman of the House of Representatives’ Africa committee, points out that the old models have failed. The democratisation process, the defence of human rights and the market economy are still in their infancy and the US can make a major contribution (8). Speaking to black businessmen in Washington on 5 February 1998, Ms Rice said that the US had a pivotal role to play in speeding up Africa’s integration into the world economy.

President Clinton’s national security adviser, Sandy Berger, believes Africa has never been so open and so attractive. Every day, the media report on the wars and poverty, but there is another side to the picture. Growth is returning and a new generation of leaders is in power. He wants to see the US play a major role in the next chapter in Africa’s history, making a stronger commitment and at the same time promoting its own interests.

US aspiring, as French retiring
The object is, of course, to generate interest in the business community, which is still sceptical. The aim of President Clinton’s team, with the backing of Congress and some of the African-American community, is to take over the whole “white man’s burden”. The only way to do this is through the private sector, which is being asked to bring Africa into the US-style globalisation process. The ambition is all the more notable when the ex-colonial powers have apparently retired from the scene and seem unable to produce any coherent or constructive ideas.

That is especially true of France, one of the traditional colonial powers. Paris has been tainted by its association with the groups responsible for the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, the geopolitical developments in the former Zaire in 1997 and the upheaval in Congo-Brazzaville. It suffers from a lack of credibility after the devaluation of the CFA franc under pressure from the Bretton Woods institutions and the failure of democratisation in the French-speaking countries. The rivalry between Paris and Washington, which was intensified by the crises in Africa throughout 1997, has been a counterpoint to France’s efforts in the early part of 1998 to promote a less narrow, more “continental” African policy.

The French suspect the Americans of trying to supplant them in Kigali and Kinshasa. President Clinton’s African initiative at the G7 summit in Denver in June 1997 undermined France’s traditional support for the “forgotten” countries of the south (9). Interests sometimes diverge in the oilfields of Nigeria, Angola, Congo, Cameroon and Gabon (10). All the markets are becoming more competitive. The plan to set up an African peacekeeping force with US backing has focused attention on the ineffectiveness of the French military presence in Africa and has certainly hastened its partial withdrawal.

Another bone of contention was the appointment of the United Nations secretary-general at the beginning of 1997, often seen as a “duel” between France and the United States (11). Then there are the little “asides”, taken by France as attacks on its position, especially the remark by the former secretary of state, Warren Christopher, during a tour of Africa in October 1996 that the days were over when Africa could be carved up into spheres of influence, with foreign powers treating whole groups of countries as their own private domain (12).

Despite President Clinton’s assurances in July 1997 that he was not trying to drive the French out of Africa, he obviously sees the aid policies of the European powers as a failure. According to Susan Rice, the new generation of Africans wants to be rid of the old socio-economic policies, which have mostly been unsuccessful.

Washington’s pet countries
The US’s choice of favoured partners and most of the places selected for official tours are a reflection of the “liberation” process in Africa. At centre stage is South Africa. Obviously, the vital strategic interests of the cold war period, the justification for the policy of constructive engagement with the apartheid regime which was at its height during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, are no longer a factor. Now it is Nelson Mandela’s status as a world statesman, the country’s still enormous potential and the dynamism of the South African ruling class that make South Africa an essential stopping-off point on any African tour.

Other African countries that the US government regards as “success stories” on account of their economic performance are Botswana, Ghana, Mauritius and – increasingly – Mozambique. A few French-speaking countries like Senegal and Mali are singled out for their (relatively) good political behaviour. In southern Africa, Angola, with its oil, has become a major player in the new African geopolitics because of its recent military intervention in several countries. Also important are Rwanda, because of the genocide, and the new “democratic” republic of the Congo, which has the power to consolidate or destabilise half the continent (13). Both are now effectively outside the French-speaking political area. Traditional allies such as Uganda and Ethiopia are helping to “monitor” the Islamic regime in Sudan, with US backing.

All in all a “worthwhile” continent. Five of the twenty fastest growing economies in the world (6% in 1997) are African and these are naturally among the US favourites. These days, Africans rarely challenge – not even verbally
the world supremacy of Washington, the seat not only of the US government but also of international financial institutions such as World Bank and the IMF. Africa is epitomised by Nelson Mandela, who is a symbol of courage and revenge after humiliation, especially for the African-American community (14). And also by Botswana’s President Ketumile Masire, who decided to resign in March at the height of his career, leaving behind a prosperous country; and by Yoweri Museveni, the Ugandan ex-guerrilla and free market convert, a staunch exponent of the African renaissance (15).

At the same time, it is a little unrealistic to talk about opening up markets which generally speaking do not exist. Countries weakened by over a decade of structural adjustment, economies with no capitalists or domestic markets are going to have difficulty joining the global economy, whose effects can often be devastating. The US may have become Africa’s second partner, but the European Union exports more than twice as much to Africa. Even after the recent reassessment, the amount of aid that Washington provides is small compared with Africa’s real needs and the contribution of France and the European Union.

“Now it’s Africa’s turn”, says one official working methodically on the globalisation process. To some people, all the fine speeches are just a camouflage for commercial cynicism. When it suits, the US is still as ready as it ever was to turn a blind eye to the serious failures of countries like Angola, Congo, Uganda, Egypt and Nigeria to respect human rights and allow multi-party systems. Their practical support for the Organisation of African Unity and the West African Peacekeeping Force (ECOMOG, operating in Liberia and Sierra Leone) and the machinery they have set up to respond to African crises (African Crisis Response Initiative or ACRI) are usually dependent on one overriding condition – a willingness to integrate into the world economy.

Ref: Le monde

Africa in 2 maps: A continent exhausted by war and famine + Renewed foreign-power rivalry

famine map

he end of the cold war raised hopes of a new era for Africa. But the Rwandan genocide and the collapse of Congo-Zaire confused the issues. The conflict zones are also areas of famine, concentrations of displaced persons and refugees, and often of malnutrition and food shortages.

See article by Philippe Leymarie, “Africa worn out by war”, April 1999.

Sources : Human Development Report, UNDP-Economica, July 1996; Ramsès, Dunod, 1994; Les réfugiés dans le monde, HCR, La Découverte, 1995; The state of food insecurity in the world, FAO, Rome, 1999; Populations en danger, Médecins sans frontières – Lepac, La Découverte, 1995 ; Le monde peut-il nourrir le monde?, Les clés de la planète, hors-série no 1 (map by Cécile Marin), Croissance, Paris, 1998.

Ref: Le MOnde

Renewed foreign-power rivalry

The situation in Africa is changing fast. France is having to face up to the rising cost of its interventions as well as their disastrous effects, especially in Rwanda. Its influence is clearly on the wane, and its European partners and the United Nations are similarly affected. But the situation is working to the advantage of the United States, eager to muscle in on the new market.

See article by Philippe Leymarie, “Washington sets out to conquer virgin territory”, March 1998.