Israel Boycotts Peace Conference

Mainstream Media Mum on Meeting

Unreported in the corporate controlled press, the Israeli boycott of the recent international Middle East peace summit in London illustrates why the Israel-Palestine conflict remains stuck in a quagmire after 57 years and who is ultimately responsible.

Although Israel stayed away, its hard-line government dictated the conference agenda and terms of discussion. Foreign ministers and high-level delegations from 23 nations and six international organizations convened in London on March 1 to try and advance the “peace process” between the Palestinians and Israelis. The attendees included the newly elected Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan,Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the European Union’s (EU) foreign policy chief Javier Solana and World Bank president James D. Wolfensohn. Representatives from the UN, EU, the United States and Russia—the “Quartet” members who drafted the current peace plan known as the “road map”—were also present for the one-day conference at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Center.

Despite the presence of so many high-level delegations, the international gathering, which Blair had originally hoped would be, or lead to, a peace conference, was unable to advance the peace process even one step because the chief antagonist of the conflict in Palestine, the Israeli government, simply boycotted the conference.

This, however, went unreported in the U.S. mainstream media. (And in the British press too. Ed.)

“Israel refused to send anyone to the gathering,” Rick Kelly reported on the web site wsws.org. “The Likud-Labour coalition government of Ariel Sharon opposed Blair’s planned conference when he first floated it after Bush’s reelection last November. As far as Israel was concerned, any discussion on its own obligations or on ‘final status’ issues related to the road map, the future of East Jerusalem, the borders of any Palestinian state, or the right of return for refugees was illegitimate.

“With the Bush administration’s full support, Sharon insisted that the only subject open for discussion was how to best whip the Palestinian Authority (PA) into line,” Kelly wrote. “The British prime minister quickly altered the character of the assembly to meet these demands. It was not even possible to call the gathering a conference, only a meeting.”

Sharon has always avoided international Middle East conferences, out of fear of being forced to withdraw from the occupied territories in the West Bank and Gaza. Rather than comply with international law and UN resolutions calling for Israeli withdrawal, Sharon continues to obstruct peace efforts by demanding that the PA disarm groups resisting Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza.

Rather than report that the Sharon government had boycotted the international conference, the controlled press in the United States shifted its focus to the question of Syria’s military presence in Lebanon and U.S. demands for a complete Syrian withdrawal.

The Palestinians had protested, saying the conference would do nothing to press Israel to meet its obligations or fulfill existing commitments to ease the occupation or end the expansion of settlements.

“The London non-event on Palestine was a superb exercise in obfuscation,” The Dawn wrote. “Boycotted by Israel, the meeting did not even make a passing reference to the real issue—the continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.”

Palestinian personal income has fallen by 40 percent in the past few years and nearly half the Palestinians live “below the poverty line.” More than 600,000 Palestinians in the occupied territories “cannot even afford the basic necessities for subsistence,” according to a recent World Bank report titled “Palestinian Economic Crisis.”

It should be noted that the changes, demanded by the Israeli government, to the conference’s final declaration were made before the foreign ministers and delegates had even convened on March 1.

The final declaration was drawn up in advance in close consultation with the Sharon government. Sharon’s closest adviser, Dov Weisglass, reportedly met twice with aides to Blair in the two weeks prior to the meeting and forced several changes to the prepared text.

Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper reported that Weisglass had visited London the week before the conference and asked that the Palestinian commitment to security be strengthened in the document.

The original draft had stated that Palestinian reform should be met by “reciprocal action by Israel in relation to its own commitments.” Sharon, however, objected to this and had the statement changed so that the conference participants merely “urged and expected” Israeli action.

“Dutifully, Mr. Blair supported Mr. Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan, but neither he nor Miss Rice regretted Israel’s boycott of the conference,” The Dawn reported.

“Instead, they laid emphasis on reforms and for the Palestinian Authority to act against those responsible for the recent Tel Aviv bombing. The real issues—the right of return for Palestinian refugees, halting settlement activity, dismantling settlements already built, condemning the Israeli massacre in Jenin, the blowing up of Palestinian houses, and giving a date for the withdrawal of Israeli troops—were not even discussed,” it wrote.

When the conference opened, the drastic changes to the agenda demanded by Israel had reduced Blair’s original peace conference to a mere “meeting.” It is not “a peace conference,” British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said, “nor will it deal with the final status issues in the road map but we believe it is a vital practical step towards restarting the road map process.”

Consequently, none of the real underlying issues of the conflict in Palestine were discussed. As demanded by Israel, Palestinian President Abbas was issued a list of demands for political, security, and economic reform, designed to demonstrate the PA’s readiness to suppress resistance to the Israeli occupation.

“That the Israeli government could dictate the terms of an international meeting that it boycotted speaks volumes as to the real nature of the relationship between London, Tel Aviv, and Washington,” reporter Kelly noted.

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