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PROFESSOR OF RELIGIOUS STUDIES
UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO AT BOULDER
Spectacle at Annapolis
Spurs Nuclear Danger
By sobering coincidence, I finished reading Jonathan
Schell’s new book, The Seventh Decade, just as George W. Bush, Ehud Olmert, and Mahmous Abbas were getting ready to go onstage for their starring
roles in the U.S. - produced
theatrical spectacle, “Peace Talks at Annapolis.” Schell thinks that the new phase of the
nuclear age we are in now may be the most dangerous of all. “Peace Talks” gives
us one more good reason to believe he may be right.
Schell’s main point is simple enough, though its
ramifications stretch out endlessly. The
technically hard part of making a nuclear weapon is producing the enriched
radioactive fuel. Once that’s done, the rest is pretty straightforward
engineering. So the important question is not, Who has
the bomb now? It’s, Who has the fuel to make the bomb
some day? When the nuclear age began, it was only the U.S., Britain,
and the Soviet Union. Now dozens of nations
can make the bomb some day -- thanks in part to the “generous” American policy
of spreading nuclear technology around the world.
Schell was kind enough to read my book on Eisenhower's
“Atoms for Peace” plan, so he knows that it had nothing to do with peace and
everything to do with scoring propaganda points in the cold war. But the
unintended fallout was to give lots of countries the technical wherewithal to
enrich nuclear fuels. The prospect of endless proliferation came up a few times
at national security council meetings in the
Eisenhower years, but no one gave it any attention. They were too busy trying
to defeat the Soviets.
Now the Bush administration is just as busy trying to
defeat “the terrorists” and any government that stands in the way of U.S. global
hegemony. To buy friends (and boost the nuclear power industry) they are ready
to sell nuclear power technology around the world, while threatening to nuke
anyone who acquires the same technology without U.S. approval. (Are you listening, Iran?)
There are two
great arcs of countries that can make the bomb some day. One stretches from Russia through China,
to Korea, Japan, and probably Taiwan. The other stretches from
India through Pakistan, Iran, maybe Syria, certainly Israel, down to Saudi
Arabia and Egypt, both of which recently made deals to get nuclear technology
from the U.S. (We can safely assume that Iraq would be in that arc some day, if
the U.S. gets its way and keeps permanent U.S. military bases there, which will
probably house nukes.)
Which brings us to the spectacle of
“Peace Talks at Annapolis.”
I call it a spectacle because no one expected it to be much more than a grand
photo op to boost the political fortunes of the stars: Bush, Olmert, and Abbas. Now the news
reports tell us that, after some intense last-minute arm-twisting, the U.S. managed to
extract a real agreement. The Israelis and Abbas’
rump Palestinian government will begin permanent peace talks and get a genuine
peace agreement within a year.
Or so they say.
Aaron David Miller, a former negotiator for the Clinton administration, voiced the view of
most knowledgeable observers: “The chances for a Palestinian state in George
Bush’s term are slim to none.” Miller, a
Democrat, blamed it on the Bush administration’s lack of “will and skill” to
pull off a peace treaty.
But even with all the will and skill in the world,
it’s doubtful any American leader could pull it off. Last week the prestigious
Israeli newspaper http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/924660.htmlHa’aretz
reported that top right-wing politicians in Israel have achieved a “targeted
assassination” of the peace process. They’ve put up obstacles to peace so high
that Olmert, a weak leader at best, can never pull
They got the Knesset, Israel’s
parliament, to pass a law that 2/3 of the Knesset must
approve any changes in the boundaries of Jerusalem.
That will never happen. So the Israeli negotiators in the “peace process” can
never accede to a fundamental Palestinian demand, that both nations share Jerusalem as their
They also got a hidden “kicker” in the joint
declaration issued at Annapolis: “The parties also commit to immediately
implement their respective obligations under the performance-based road map.” Israel has
always insisted that its obligations under the road map begin only after the
Palestinian authorities have suppressed all anti-Israeli violence. Ha’aretz reports that the right-wingers who want to block
peace are requiring Olmert to persist in the
will have a dependable partner in that effort. The declaration say
that the Bush administration will judge whether both sides are fulfilling their
road map obligations. The long-standing U.S.
tilt toward Israel
is certainly not going to change any time soon.
As the Washington Post reported: “People who have
spoken to Bush in recent weeks say he has made it clear that he has no
intention of trying to force a peace settlement on the parties. The
president's fight against terrorism has given him a sense of kinship with Israel
over its need for security, and he remains skeptical that, in the end, the
Palestinians will make the compromises necessary for a peace deal.” So the U.S.
will never say Israel
has failed its road map obligations, and the Israelis can go on stalling
The Palestinians helped the Israelis to stall by accepting
an agreement with no binding timetable for negotiations. The declaration says
only that both sides will “make every effort to conclude an agreement before
the end of 2008.” The Israelis can easily put up all their roadblocks to peace and
then say, “Hey, we made every effort, didn’t we?”
According to some reports, Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice wanted a more meaningful agreement at Annapolis, knowing that a failed effort at
peace is worse than no effort at all.
According to The Economist, “Ms Rice shuttled and shuttled, but could
not stop Israel
from repeatedly raising the bar. For his part, Mr Abbas, having threatened to pull out of Annapolis if it
proved to be devoid of content, turned out not to have the guts—no doubt
fearing a withdrawal of American support for his precarious regime.”
Precarious indeed. Abbas knows that
the Palestinians will never accept a state that does not include Gaza, and he has no power to bring Gaza into any agreement. In case he missed that point, more than
100,000 Gazans were in the streets protesting the Annapolis meeting. In the
West Bank, the Palestinian Authority banned
all demonstrations and news conferences during the meeting. Nevertheless,
hundreds demonstrated, and police used batons and tear gas and fired into the
air to suppress them. Police beat and detained
journalists too. (So much for the
democracy the Bush administration supposedly supports, while it systematically
destroys the duly elected government dominated by Hamas.)
strategy has always been to keep its opponents divided. If the past is any
guide, Israel is now likely
to string out the “peace talks” (with U.S. help) while it continues
occupation policies that enrage Palestinians more every day. When the
Palestinians get frustrated enough with Abbas’
fruitless efforts, Hamas’ fortunes will rise and his
government will fall, or at best get embroiled in civil war. That will give the
Israelis a chance to complain once again, “We have no partner for peace.”
But then a real peace process, which would have to
include Hamas, was never the point in the first
place. Few take even this pseudo-peace process seriously -- including, it
seems, the president. Daniel Kurtzer,
who served as Bush's ambassador to Israel from 2001 to 2005, said,
"You don't get a sense that he's invested in it. Nobody associates
President Bush with this policy."
The policy everyone associates Bush with is the
brewing war -- whether hot or cold, no one can say for sure -- against Iran. Most
observers agree that the spectacle of “Peace Talks at Annapolis”
was staged, above all, to impress Iran
by consolidating a pro-U.S., anti-Iranian alliance in the Middle
Just as in Eisenhower's day, it’s all about
containment, drawing a clear line between our side and theirs and then standing
tough. One part of that line runs right
between the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas
government. When Abbas agreed to the Annapolis declaration, he hardened the
opposition to his rule and made the dividing line clearer than ever.
Meanwhile, the U.S.
got Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria,
and other anti-Iranian Arab states to line up more clearly alongside Israel
and the pro-Abbas Palestinians on “our” side. They
are all brought together by their fear of Iran and its growing influence with
popular Arab factions like Hamas. So the Middle East is becoming more polarized than ever, as if
the two sides were squaring off to do battle.
If it ever comes to that, will the battle be
nuclear? That’s the terrifying question
Jonathan Schell raises, reminding us that most of these potential combatants
have, or may soon have, the fuel to make nukes. As of now, actual nukes exist
only in Israel (some 200 or
more) -- and in Pakistan,
which has no direct role in the Middle East
drama now. But with its political future uncertain and its border with Iran always
unstable, who can predict what might happen? And if Pakistan
were to get involved, what would India do?
Schell’s point is that nuclear proliferation, fostered
policies, is leading toward an ever greater likelihood of nuclear war, some
day, some where. The U.S.
is involved up to the ears in every region of the world, pushing and pulling
with little regard for the long-term consequences of its tactical maneuvers.
The spectacle at Annapolis
is just one more in an endless line of examples. What seemed like an innocuous publicity stunt
and symbolic message to Iran
could have unpredictable results. In a
world menaced by proliferating nuclear weapons, unpredictable should mean unacceptable.
Schell concludes that nothing is acceptable short of the total, global
abolition of nuclear weapons. A hearty Amen to that.
But even without nukes, a Middle
East battered by endless conflict and oppression would be
unacceptable too. For the sake of
justice as well as safety, the U.S.
government must take genuine steps to promote a just and lasting peace between Israel and Palestine
-- as two secure and viable states, with all political parties democratically
represented -- rather than promoting a charade of peacemaking that is bound to