The last time a major, headline-making conference was held in Annapolis, Maryland — a constitutional convention in 1786 to address trade between the largely independent states under the Articles of Confederation — every state in the union was invited. There was only one problem: only twelve delegates from five states showed up, and the convention adjourned early as commissioners determined that too few states were represented to make any substantive agreement.
Against this standard, last week’s Middle East peace conference in Annapolis can be considered an unmitigated success: nearly everyone showed up! In fact, although most were clearly motivated more by fear of Iran’s emerging dominance in the Middle East than by a genuine desire for peace in that region, 49 countries, including Syria and Saudi Arabia, participated in the summit.
There is, however, little reason to believe that anything positive will come out of this new round of talks. There’s a basic disconnect when discussing the conflict. Most people believe disagreement over the details of a peace agreement (the refugee question as well as the status of Jerusalem and the West Bank) is the greatest obstacle to peace. But, at its core, the conflict arises from a more fundamental issue: Israel’s right to exist.
Israel desperately wants to live in peace with its neighbors in a Jewish State with defensible borders. Unfortunately, countries like Syria and Iran, and groups like Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad want Israel to disappear and Jews to be either driven into the sea or forced to live under servitude in a new “Palestine.”
Sure the Palestinians say that they recognize Israel when western press are present; but, as Middle East expert Bernard Lewis noted last week in the Wall Street Journal, “that’s not the message delivered at home in Arabic, in everything from primary school textbooks to political speeches and religious sermons. Here the terms used in Arabic denote, not the end of hostilities, but an armistice or truce, until such time that the war against Israel can be resumed with better prospects for success.”
For decades, Palestinian society has been built on a culture of death, indoctrinating one generation after another in schools and mosques to think of Jews as sub-human, as monkeys and apes. Religious extremists are given free reign to teach that Allah requires jihad against “infidels,” most notably Jews and Christians. Even Palestinian TV shows aimed at young children showcase Islamic radicalism and teach that nothing is more glorious than being a suicide bomber for Islam. When the radicals of Gaza insisted the land be a “Jew free zone,” the world said nothing.
Last week when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State was paramount to peace hopes, Palestinian negotiators were outraged. The Palestinians not only insist on a new state of their own, they also insist on the right of millions of Palestinians to immigrate to Israel, a concession that would effectively bury Israel in a demographic nightmare in which Jews would be a minority in their own nation.
But Condoleezza Rice and the president apparently think Israeli settlements and Jewish control of Jerusalem are the problems standing in the way of peace. Israel was under heavy pressure to make more concessions on those issues even before Annapolis began.
If peace conferences were sufficient to bring peace, the Middle East would be the most peaceful region in the world. But they are not, and it is not. Historically, Israeli concessions have only whetted the appetites of her enemies. Yet once again the Arab world, the European Union, the media establishments and, sadly, even elements of our own government are telling Israel that the way to peace is to divide Jerusalem, abandon Judea and Samaria, give up the Golan Heights and accept unlimited refugees. But history has amply demonstrated that the surrender of Israeli land moves peace further away and moves Kassam rockets closer to Israeli homes. In 2005, when 8,000 Jewish settlers were forced to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians launched rocket attacks on nearby Jewish civilian targets in southern Israel.
And who can forget Camp David in 2000? Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s over generous offer — which included giving the Palestinians eventual 91 percent control of the West Bank, all of Gaza, half of Jerusalem and compensation of property to Palestinian refugees, while insisting only that terrorist groups be dismantled — was summarily rejected by Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat. By refusing even to make a counter offer, Arafat revealed that he wasn’t interested in seeking peace. Instead, Arafat initiated the Second Intifada, a terrorist campaign that continues to this day.
Over the next 18 months, President Bush will continue to push the peace process at least in part because, like all presidents, he is concerned with his legacy. Prime Minister Olmert will also be tempted to make more concessions in the hope that he can come up with the magic words that will stop the blood lust of Israel’s enemies. This week, in a gesture of goodwill, Israel released 429 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. A spokesman for Olmert said, “We are fully committed to carrying out confidence-building measures, to show there is a dividend — that the political process can improve the situation on the ground.” Unfortunately, the only “dividend” that matters to many Muslim Arab leaders is the one for which the annihilation of Israel remains a prerequisite.
Though it failed to achieve its immediate goals, the Annapolis Convention of 1786 did produce one success. The few attending delegates issued a report soliciting support for a broader meeting to be held the following May in Philadelphia in order to address problems in the U.S. following independence from Great Britain. The fruit of the Philadelphia convention, now more commonly known as the Constitutional Convention, was the United States Constitution, the greatest political and legal document ever devised.
The persistence of America’s founders ensured that the Annapolis Convention of 1786 would be remembered fondly by history. Unless and until the Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to persist as a Jewish State, history will remember this most recent Annapolis conference far less fondly.