The May 25 decision of the government of Israel to ratify the roadmap is instructive in ways that go far beyond the immediate upshot of "launching" a new peace and stabilization process. That process, incidentally, is not likely in and of itself to bring peace. But it does reflect an important change in the strategic scenery.
The most important development reflected in the government's ratification is the apparent decision by United States President George Bush to devote his prestige and energies to Arab-Israel peacemaking. Following upon two years of "hands off" policy toward the Arab-Israel conflict, this is a welcome development. Whether we have the Iraq war to thank, or British Prime Minister Blair's pressure, or Bush's own growing self-confidence as a statesman, we may never know. Nor is it clear how long and how intensively Bush intends to pursue and pressure for an Israeli-Palestinian peace process. But at least he has begun; without his involvement, there is simply no chance whatsoever under the present circumstances for progress to be registered. Without Bush's role, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) would not have been appointed; and without his pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Sharon, the roadmap would not have been ratified.
Bush's involvement and virtual "ownership" of the roadmap (which, lest we forget, is technically a Quartet document), also mean that Washington is now, unequivocally, the center of Israel-Arab peacemaking. This is an important development for all interested parties. If the Israeli left, for example, wants to have some input into the process, it should focus its efforts on Washington before Jerusalem. And if the other three members of the Quartet, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, want to continue to exercise influence, they are best advised to concentrate on keeping Bush in the process, rather than keeping Sharon or Abu Mazen involved.
A careful reading of the language of the government of Israel's resolution ratifying the roadmap appears to indicate that nothing has changed in Sharon's strategic approach. Unfortunately, this is good news for the Israeli right, which should recognize--despite its condemnations of Sharon--that the prime minister's maneuvering represents their best chance to hold onto the settlements and avoid a productive peace process. And it is bad news for the forces of peace. Sharon's current position is entirely consistent with his advocacy of a Palestinian "state" divided into enclaves that take up around 50 percent of the territories, and that does not involve the dismantling of settlements, which in his view serve a permanent strategic defensive purpose. Hence the only guarantee of additional progress under Sharon is pressure by Bush, and even that will become less productive the moment settlements become a central factor.
The Israel government's decision ratifies "steps set out in the roadmap" rather than the roadmap itself, thereby reflecting Sharon's insistence that the roadmap be sequential (beginning with Palestinian steps on security) rather than parallel (Israeli confidence-building measures, dismantling of outposts and freezing of settlements in parallel with Palestinian security measures), and that Israel has the right to pick and choose which demands it will comply with. This approach is reinforced by the "14 points" that the US is committed to "address": while some are relatively benign, their overall thrust is to insist on Palestinian compliance first, and to refuse to accept roadmap foundations and demands, such as reopening Palestine Liberation Organization offices in Jerusalem and the Saudi/Arab League initiative of March 2002, that are politically or ideologically problematic for Sharon.
In view of the many reservations, disclaimers and nuances Sharon has attached to the roadmap, the most favorable development that we can now contemplate is fulfillment of phase I. This is no mean task, and could have an immensely beneficial effect on the way the Israeli and Palestinian publics alike view the notion of returning to a peace process. Above all, it will require Abu Mazen and his security chief, Mohammad Dahlan, to register quick and visible progress toward reducing Palestinian terrorism--lest a single suicide bombing with heavy Israeli casualties set back what little momentum the roadmap has developed. And it will require heavy pressure from President Bush on both Sharon and the Palestinians, along with assistance and support from friendly Arab states like Egypt and Jordan.
Assuming the Palestinians can deliver on security, then at some point not too far down the road Sharon will be abandoned by his right wing coalition partners and invite Labor into the coalition. If President Bush remains committed despite growing election constraints on his freedom of maneuver, we may, in the best case contingency, witness a dramatic stabilization of the situation in accordance with phase I.
That is the most we can hope for from the roadmap in the coming year and a half, until after elections in the US, and almost certainly as long as Yasir Arafat remains the Palestinian eminence grise and Ariel Sharon remains prime minister of Israel. But success in phase I could also precipitate welcome changes in both the Israeli and the Palestinian political leaderships.
Yossi Alpher is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies and a former senior adviser to Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
The Israeli government’s acceptance of the roadmap, despite all of the accompanying reservations, can be considered a significant development in the recent state of affairs. First, it may mark a return in Palestinian-Israeli relations from violent confrontation to peaceful negotiations. Second, given the immense incompatibility between the framework of the roadmap (i.e. ending the occupation of 1967 and stopping settlement expansion) and the ideology and political mentality of the Israeli leadership, this roadmap acceptance indicates that no matter how obstinate the Israeli government is on a given issue, the United States government can always influence change in the Israeli position.
In that regard, there is no doubt that we are now witnessing a transformation in the American administration’s attitude towards the Middle East conflict, demonstrated through a heightened level of Israeli-Palestinian contacts, the intensive and direct involvement of the president and other senior officials, and a position more consistent with international law. These changes in American behavior are driven by three motives. The first is that Israel was given the opportunity by the US to end the conflict by force. The avoidance heretofore by the Americans of new political initiatives had the effect of allowing the Israelis to continue their military campaign unhindered. But Israel has now proven that attempting to crush Palestinian steadfastness and resistance cannot achieve its objectives of peace and security.
The second American motive is regional, whereby US Middle East policy in the post-Iraq war era must be balanced to offset US policy in Iraq, which has been met by a great deal of Arab resentment. The United States, which is perceived as an occupier in Iraq, wants to end another occupation that is key in the eyes of the Arab public. The third motivation is international, and simply reflects the growing American realization that Middle East instability is closely linked to hatred, violence and terrorism, all of which threaten United States security and the security of American friends and allies. Inasmuch as a resolution in Palestine is important to the stability of the Middle East, Washington wants to engender that resolution.
This window of opportunity is a real one that demands exploitation by the peace camps in Israel and Palestine. Recent developments have produced a more conducive atmosphere towards peace, demonstrating Palestinian readiness and American enthusiasm. It remains to be seen, however, to what extent and for how long the US administration will continue to invest the level of energy required to move the peace process forward. The coming US elections loom as an advancing distraction and this new window of opportunity may not prove long enough to reestablish trust. But one can only commiserate with the Americans thus far, as we have seen how stubborn even the first barriers have been: bringing Israel to make the first step, repudiate violence and recognize the roadmap’s fundamental principles.
Ghassan Khatib is minister of labor in the Palestinian Authority cabinet. He has served for many years as a political analyst and media contact.
Like the battered wife who returns again and again to her violent husband because "this time he really promised" to behave, so the roadmap takes us back once again to a course that always ends up badly. But with one difference: this time the violent husband isn't even making empty promises to behave. The empty promise is being made in his name by America.
And if until now it was somehow possible to close our eyes and not see this syndrome repeating itself again and again--the process that is supposed to lead to peace always precipitating a new outbreak of Palestinian violence, terror and bloodshed, until it consumes itself, and so on and on--after the last two years we can no longer avoid the question: why did the Palestinians initiate such a violent and determined war precisely when former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and they had reached the phase of end of occupation, removal of settlements and the establishment of a Palestinian state?
I know the answers that the fanatical Israeli left likes to give itself, followed of course in turn by all Israel-haters throughout the world: we are guilty. Barak and US President Bill Clinton did not prepare properly for Camp David II; they insulted Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. If only Barak had addressed him with greater warmth and given him a little more time to bargain, after all, you know that this is what a man of the East requires. And he didn't really offer him 96 percent, only 93. And besides, lest we forget, Sharon went up on the Temple Mount and ignited the entire region.
Not only are these not intelligent answers, nor even sad excuses, but they embody something far more grave: a deep denigration of the Palestinians. Would we declare war because someone did not treat Arik Sharon (or even the distinguished Shimon Peres) nicely? Does a people embark on a course of killing and being killed with such brutality because of an argument over three or five percent of the territory (most of which it could have gained by bargaining at the negotiating table)?
If you cannot give an intelligent answer to this question, then you cannot draw a roadmap for peace in the Middle East. One way or the other, the farthest thing from intelligent behavior is when at one and the same time you are unable to explain why thus far the road has caused us to crash, yet you propose once again to take the same road without any appreciable change.
Here is an unpleasant but possible explanation: According to the Palestinian (and general Arab) view, Israel is a colonialist entity of people who came from Europe, invaded a country that did not belong to them, cast out its legal owners and settled in their place. Israel could not exist as a bone stuck in the throat of the Arab nation and a thorn in the side of Islam were it not for the support of the wealthy colonialist West, which has always sought to exploit the resources of the suppressed portion of humanity. Within this context of classic exploitation and suppression, Israel is a vehicle used by the West to rule the Holy Land and its tourist resources. With all our empathy for the Jews after what Hitler did to them, it is still unreasonable and unjust for the wealthy West to solve their problem by destroying our dream, our villages and our cities. The very creation of Israel was an immoral act, and there can be no more just aspiration than to turn back the clock and return Palestine to the status that preceded the Zionist invasion.
I did not invent this diatribe. It is written in hundreds of thousands of books, newspapers and internet sites, spoken in tens of thousands of meetings and conventions, studied endlessly in schools, sermonized every Friday in a million mosques. And confronting this huge tidal wave that assails the Arab consciousness day and night from every direction, there sails a little dinghy that declaims a mild political declaration, heard once every few years as if under duress, concerning recognition of the principle of two states for the two peoples. The Oslo system and the roadmap postpone the confrontation between the tidal wave and the dinghy to the greatest extent possible. Israeli withdrawal, a settlement freeze, additional territory and authority for the Palestinians, even a handshake and cooperation--all these can be neatly interpreted both as steps toward peace and reconciliation and as stages in the big act of turning back the clock and correcting the historical injustice.
This system of postponement has not proven itself. Every time we have reached the moment of confrontation, along came the tidal wave and overturned the dinghy. The only innovation of the roadmap is that it postpones the moment of confrontation to a greater extent than all its predecessors. In other words, it swamps the dinghy at a time when huddled on its deck are thousands of victims.
Uri Elitzur is editor of Nekuda, the official publication of the settler movement, and writes a column for Yediot Aharonot. He was director of the Prime Minister's Bureau under PM Binyamin Netanyahu.
Initially, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared repeatedly that the roadmap plan went against all Israeli security and national interests, and placed many conditions before he would consider accepting it. Only weeks later did Sharon acquiesce--under great pressure from the United States and because Israel was the only party who had yet to agree to the document. All the eyes of the world were watching Sharon, and in response he had to move forward to relieve that pressure.
In truth, the roadmap is not so bad for Israel. It allows for a very long period of discussion and does not talk about the serious issues before minor steps. All of the really important questions are postponed until an indefinite date. While Sharon could not escape acceptance of the roadmap, he is counting on escaping its implementation, and the roadmap’s many weaknesses make it an easy wager that Sharon will succeed.
For its part, the Palestinian Authority has no other options. It has accepted all proposed solutions: from Oslo to the Hebron accords, Wye River, Mitchell and the Tenet work plan. The Palestinian Authority is traveling down a single track. It argues that Palestinians will accept the roadmap because they will get something from Israel in return: push the Israeli military back to the pre-intifada borders of September 28, 2000 or stop the growth of settlements, for example. The Palestinian Authority wants to put the train back on the negotiations track because it cannot go on fighting Israeli forces and is receiving little support from Arab countries. The leadership feels itself alone against the immense power and aggression of the Israeli occupation. In particular, Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has always believed that Palestinians cannot gain by armed struggle against Israel and therefore, that we must return to the peace process at any price.
But we have tested Israel many times. For ten years, we made agreement after agreement, without implementation. This is the crux of the Palestinian problem--the Palestinian Authority is always accepting intervention from the United States, the European community, or even the Israeli side, and then afterwards can do little but complain that Israel is not committed and settlements are increasing and Israel is confiscating more land. This language of defeat must stop. We cannot waste more time because throughout, Palestinians are suffering. Their problems are not waiting, as we wait for the agreement of the Israeli side.
The mistake of the Palestine Liberation Organization from the beginning was that it agreed to comprehensive agreement and a partition of the solution. In other words, all problems should be settled, and afterwards the two sides would discuss the implementation stage by stage. Only after accepting the roadmap will we talk about solving Jerusalem, the refugees, the borders--all of the final issues. In order to resolve these complicated problems, we will need twenty or thirty years. It is a train on a circular track and eventually we will return to the very first station.
Currently, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas and Islamic Jihad are in dialogue over the implementation of the roadmap. This is something quite normal because Hamas and the Authority are facing the same enemy: both are looking to end the Israeli occupation. While there are differences over the tactics and means, it is very important that the language used to describe these differences is one of “dialogue”. Repeatedly, Hamas says that it will not use armed struggle against the Authority, and Abbas has also indicated that he will not wield violence against the Palestinian factions.
We are, as one Palestinian people, facing great troubles: Israeli occupation, aggression, home demolitions and assassination. We will not add more weight to our shoulders in the form of clashes between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. These two parties have become wise in their disagreements and prefer to sit down and talk. Hamas has turned increasingly pragmatic and wants to give Abbas a chance, but it also has its conditions, which mean that Israel must stop at least some of its illegal and unacceptable aggression. If Israel does not concede, Hamas--or any other Palestinian faction, for that matter--will not remain silent.
While the coming days may see some easing of tensions, it is very difficult to imagine that the roadmap will endure. There are hundreds of obstacles before the parties, and the roadmap offers no path for navigating the most sensitive and important issues. We have seen George Mitchell, Anthoni Zinni, George Tenet, Colin Powell, and now George Bush come to the region, but none of their approaches worked. Prime Minister Abbas will be unable to continue along the roadmap if there is no pressure on Israel to evacuate settlements here in Gaza, for example, or declare the boundaries of a Palestinian state. (A Palestinian state surrounded by Israeli forces or full of settlements dividing Palestinian towns is not an acceptable state.) In this, Prime Minister Abbas is making the same mistake the PLO made in 1993 by agreeing to implement the small things now, and ignoring the big problems until later. Israel will force even the smallest negotiations to take much time, and then there will be something--killing, demolishing, assassinations--Palestinians will react and we will be back at that very first station: how to bring about a real and immediate end to the Israeli occupation.
Ghazi Hamad is editor of Gaza's al-Risala newspaper, currently closed by the Palestinian Authority, and leader of the Islamic Salvation Party.
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