Annapolis – rearrange the script

Hans Rustad

Many journalists had to rewrite their scripts for the Annapolis meeting when it became clear that real progress could be made. Among them was Norwegian public radio’s Washington correspondent Tove Bjørgaas. Even Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre let slip a wry smile when asked: What is new?

For some people the Annapolis meeting represents a dead end. Nothing good can come from the Bush administration, whose blunders in the Middle East have been too many and too big. To think otherwise would undermine their own analysis of the Middle East.

As Director of NUPI, a state-funded think tank, and former official in the United Nations Jan Egeland said on NRK TV: We revert to the mother conflict in the Middle East.

The term “mother conflict” says a lot about Egeland’s presumptions: Israel is the root cause of the troubles in the Middle East. This is of course a highly politicized view, but one that goes unchallenged in Norwegian public debate.

How did it come about that the nation whose capital gave name to the first peace process became aligned with the rejection front led by Hamas? There was of course the election victory. But that is not the whole story. Norway’s biggest political party, The Labour Party, has been influenced by the same anti-americanism that has taken hold of many European parties. Events tend to move people, and Labour along with most parties have gravitated to the side that is sceptical of US and Israel.

Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre must take some of the blame for this. His recognition of the Hamas-led Palestinian government last spring was a singular act that reverberated in Washington. The rationale for this act was hard to follow. It opened up a Pandora’s box and Norway has had great difficulty disentangling itself from this position ever since.

Standing in Annapolis last night, NRK’s reporter ran out of positive things to say and fell back on the scepticism that was there all along. She asked the Foreign Minister. “What is really new here?” And with a wry smile Gahr Støre said that the road map was still on the table, implying that it is rather obsolete. When asked how Abbas can negotiate when Hamas is absent, Gahr Støre wriggled and gave an equivocal answer.

In recognizing Hamas, the Norwegian Government also implicitly recognized their legitimacy. That put them at odds with president Bush’s policy that the question is not only a Palestinian state, but what principles it is founded on. Not to understand this is to give legitimacy to the raging crowd in Gaza who shouted “Death to America.”




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