Analysis: The importance of what is, and what is not, said

Olmert acknowledged Palestinian suffering; Abbas included an appeal to Israelis.

olmert abbas whisper 224 (photo credit: AP)
olmert abbas whisper 224
(photo credit: AP)
The speeches delivered by US President George W. Bush, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Annapolis on Tuesday provide a good example of where what is omitted in a speech is often as important as what is inserted. Bush, contrary to concern articulated by officials in Jerusalem in recent days, made no mention in his remarks of the Golan Heights, something Israel feared would be raised as a "prize" to the Syrians for attending the conference. The only speaker to mention the Golan was Abbas. Not only did Bush not stroke the Syrians by mentioning the Golan, he rapped them on the knuckles for interference in Lebanon, something that must have had the Syrian representative at the meeting squirming in his seat. "We believe democracy brings peace," Bush said. "And democracy in Lebanon is vital, as well, for the peace in the Middle East. Lebanese people are in the process of electing a president. That decision is for the Lebanese people to make - and they must be able to do so free from outside interference and intimidation." If the Syrians hoped that their participation would bring about a dramatic change in tone from Washington, Bush disabused them of that notion. Nor did Bush seem to "give" anything to the Saudis in the speech, as he did not mention Jerusalem or any accommodation that the US would favor in the city. That Bush would feel indebted to the Saudis and pay them in "Jerusalem currency" was also one of Jerusalem's fears going into Tuesday's ceremony. Bush's wording on the settlements is also worth noting, as - in contrast to the road map, which calls for a halt to all settlement construction - Bush said Israel should stop settlement "expansion," a term that gives Israel wiggle room. Israel has argued in the past, and will continue to do so in the future, that a ban on settlement expansion means that the settlements cannot be built outward, but that it does allow for settlement "construction" inside the communities themselves. Bush also hinted at US opposition to Palestinian refugees returning to Israel, saying on two occasions in the speech that the goal was a Palestinian state that would be a Palestinian homeland, just as Israel was a Jewish homeland - code for rejecting a Palestinian "right of return." While hinting at a need for Israel to lift roadblocks, he also articulated an appreciation of Israel's security concerns, saying that Israel must find "other ways for the Palestinian Authority to exercise its responsibilities without compromising Israel's security." Olmert's speech was noticeable for his recognition of Palestinian suffering. While former prime minister Ariel Sharon made similar comments in speeches that preceded the Gaza disengagement in 2005, Olmert highlighted this as well. "I wish to say, from the bottom of my heart, that I know and acknowledge the fact that alongside the constant suffering which many in Israel have experienced because of the history, the wars, the terror and the hatred towards us - a suffering which has always been part of our lives in our land - your people have also suffered for many years, and some still suffer," he said. "For dozens of years, many Palestinians have been living in camps, disconnected from the environment in which they grew, wallowing in poverty, neglect, alienation, bitterness and a deep, unrelenting sense of deprivation." Abbas, for his part, presented the Palestinian narrative, but did include an appeal to the Israeli people. "You are the neighbors on this small land. Neither we nor you must beg for peace from the other. It is a joint interest for us and you. Peace and freedom is a right for us, just as peace and security is a right for you and us," he said. "It is time for the circle of blood, violence and occupation to end. It is time for us to look at the future together with confidence and hope. It is time for this tortured land that has been called the land of love and peace to live up to its name," Abbas said. What was missing, however, was any acknowledgement by Abbas of Israeli suffering, as Olmert acknowledged Palestinian pain. In an unfortunate mistranslation, moreover, the person translating Abbas's speech from Arabic into English rendered the word "al-Nakba" - generally translated as "catastrophe" - as "Holocaust." "The whole world today is stretching its hand and want to help us put an end to our tragedy, to our Holocaust," the translator said in a statement that caused discomfort among Israeli listeners. A written translation of the text, however, read differently: "The entire world is extending their hands to us to help end the years of our everlasting Nakba."