Take lessons from city's rich history

November 25, 2007|By James J. Zogby

Pity poor Annapolis. This quaint little city has a remarkable history and lessons to teach. These, however, will not be the focus of the world's attention when the Bush administration convenes its long-awaited Middle East peace meeting Tuesday.

So interesting are some of the events that occurred in early Annapolis that if I hadn't known better, I might have thought the Bush administration chose the site of this meeting because of the rich symbolism the city evokes. Consider:

The Treaty of Paris, 1783. Though negotiated in France the year before, the treaty was signed in Annapolis in 1783. The treaty ended the war between the American revolutionaries and Great Britain, and included the agreement of Britain and America to "forget all past misunderstandings and differences ... and to establish between the two countries ... a beneficial and satisfactory intercourse ... and to secure to both perpetual peace and harmony."

In Article One, Britain recognizes the United States to be "free sovereign and independent," and it "relinquishes all claims and territorial rights." In Article Two, the boundaries of the United States are delineated, with Britain's pledge of respect for those borders. In Article Seven, Britain and the U.S. agree that "all prisoners shall be set at liberty."

One might have hoped that with proper preparation, something similar might have been on the agenda at this year's Middle East meeting.

Annapolis Convention II, 1786. A meeting of the Continental Congress, its purpose was to resolve issues that had arisen from the lack of a strong central government. With no quorum, the convention closed with a charge that these matters should be resolved at its next session - which resulted in the writing of the American Constitution. A contemporaneous commentator expressed the hope that the charge of the convention would be heeded in order to "secure the dignity and harmony" of the nation, because he believed that experience should have taught the different states that the unity of the whole nation was of greater importance than competition and friction between its sections.

With both Israeli and Palestinian society so deeply internally divided, the Bush administration, realizing that a full peace agreement was not in the offing, might have used the Annapolis meeting to work for much-needed Palestinian unity, or Israeli unity, in support of peace.

Annapolis Convention I, 1775. This earlier meeting resulted in the "Declaration of the Association of the Free Men of Maryland," which denounced the British occupation for its "arbitrary and vindictive statutes" that were "destroying the essential securities of the lives, liberties and properties" of the Americans. The declaration describes "the inhabitants of Maryland, firmly persuaded that it is necessary and justifiable to repel force by force," and declares that "we do unite and associate, as one band, and firmly and solemnly engage and pledge ourselves to each other, and to America."

This is clearly a lesson the Bush administration does not want the Palestinians to learn from American history.

But it is my hope that the city's grand ghosts will haunt the upcoming meeting with these reminders:

Tyranny and occupation are intolerable.

In the long term, unity for the sake of the nation trumps any other ideological or regional loyalty.

When a conflict ends, each side must respect the territorial integrity, and full sovereignty within that territory, of the other.

James J. Zogby is president of the Arab American Institute. His e-mail is jzogby@aaiusa.org.

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