The fifth anniversary of the internationally sponsored roadmap to Palestinian-Israeli peace coincided with an unusual period of intense references to it by politicians and leaders.
During both the visit to Washington of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last week and the current visit to the region of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice attention was focused on the details of the roadmap, which, when it was drafted, enjoyed the support of almost every single country in the world.
It was very clear from Abbas' words and evident frustration in Washington after meeting US President George W. Bush last week that the Palestinian side expects Washington to seriously apply itself to implementing the roadmap. While there are obligations on both sides in the roadmap, Abbas was referring specifically to those on Israel, in particular the obligations to end settlement expansion and disband those settlements known as settlement outposts.
In addition, the roadmap considers the 1967 lines as the border between Israel and the future state of Palestine, calling explicitly for an end to the occupation that started in 1967. During his visit to Washington, Abbas asked Bush to help ensure that at this stage at least one roadmap obligation be imposed on Israel: either the US guarantees a cessation of settlement expansion or it extracts from Israel an agreement that the 1967 borders be cemented as the future border between the two states.
Abbas' main argument was, first, that these are two explicit obligations under the roadmap and, second, that if Israel neither recognizes the border of 1967 nor is willing to stop the consolidation of the occupation in the shape of expanding illegal settlements, then the whole negotiations process becomes meaningless. From Abbas' point of view that will not only undermine the opportunity for peace this year, it will undermine the Palestinian leadership, which has closely associated itself with this process.
The outcome of that will be a further increase in support for Hamas in the occupied Palestinian territories and a strengthening of the position of fundamentalist Islamic movements in the region generally.
On her current visit, meanwhile, Rice again called on the sides to honor their obligations under the roadmap. Gently, rather than forcefully, she indicated the dangers of the Israeli settlement policy by referring to it as "politically problematic". She also referred to the need for Israel to fulfill other obligations under the roadmap by removing the obstacles to movement of Palestinians and Palestinian goods in the West Bank. These restrictions are considered, in the most recent World Bank report to the donors conference in London last week, as the main impediment to economic recovery.
After the recent success of the Palestinian Authority in showing progress fulfilling its security obligations under the roadmap, the Palestinian side feels more confident in complaining against Israeli breaches of the roadmap and the Americans are more willing to listen. Both Israeli and Palestinian security assessments have confirmed that the PA's security sector reform has proceeded and that there has been tangible progress in enforcing law and order.
The police reinforcements sent to Jenin last week after 500 policemen finished training shows that the earlier success in Nablus was part of a systematic improvement in the security performance of the PA. At the same time, both Palestinian and Israeli security analysts have expressed satisfaction with the amnesty program that incorporated certain Palestinian armed groups in the West Bank. Particularly successful was the integration of those groups into the security services, a program that proved more efficient than the previous Israeli approach of collective punishment and brutal violence.
But the political process is at a crossroads. If the US does not start to show greater urgency and seriousness in its role as monitor of the two sides' implementation of their obligations under the roadmap, thereby continuing to allow Israel to violate its obligations, the process will come to an end, and a potentially catastrophic one. If the political process is ground down, the consequences will be a further shift in the balance of power in Palestinian society away from the peace camp and an increase in the level of violence, not only between Israelis and Palestinians, but between Palestinians and Palestinians.- Published 5/5/2008 © bitterlemons.org
A lot has changed, and nothing has changed, since the roadmap was introduced five years ago (April 30, 2003).
The Israeli and Palestinian leaders who accepted this peace plan back then, Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat, are no longer on the scene. Both were strong and willful personalities, but neither one really believed in a genuine Israeli-Palestinian peace, hence they approached the roadmap idea defensively. They have been replaced by Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), both of whom do believe in peace but are probably too weak to do anything about it. Indeed, so weak is Abbas that he has allowed Hamas, which rejects the roadmap, to take over the Gaza Strip.
The order of the roadmap has changed too. Rather than following the logic of the roadmap's sequencing and implementing phase I (confidence-building) prior to phase III (final status negotiations), Israel and Palestine are now committed to implementing I and III simultaneously. Whatever peace or framework agreement emerges from phase III negotiations will now be termed a "shelf agreement" and its realization will be delayed until phase I issues (security, outposts, etc.) are resolved. It is not at all clear that a shelf agreement is a viable concept. In any case, progress to date on both phase I and phase III is unimpressive.
The regional environment is also different from five years ago. Iran's looming hegemonic aspirations, the American fiasco in Iraq and a dangerous stalemate in Lebanon have combined to drive Israel's main Sunni Arab neighbors seemingly to seek a more active role in advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace and rebuffing Iran. Yet the Saudis, Egyptians and Jordanians are more talk than action: they boost the Arab peace initiative, and the Egyptians and Saudis dialogue with Hamas and the PLO, but thus far with little positive effect. And when Israel contemplates talking to Syria in order to edge it out of the Iranian orbit, they take their distance.
Turning to the United States, after seven years of doing precious little about the conflict and nearly five years of responsibility for a roadmap to nowhere, the Bush administration convened the Annapolis conference five months ago to re-launch that roadmap more energetically. Sadly, what we have seen since in terms of US commitment to generating a credible Israeli-Palestinian peace process is only slightly less pathetic than before Annapolis. To be sure, there are American generals and a British former prime minister "on the ground", Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visits monthly, and President George W. Bush will soon arrive for his second visit. But there is no peace team, there are no heavy pressures and Washington's effort doesn't begin to compensate for the acute political shortcomings in Jerusalem and Ramallah.
Yet how could it? No US administration can handle more than one serious Middle East enterprise at any one time. In the past five years, the Bush administration has prioritized Iraq, Iran and regional democratization over Israeli-Palestinian peace. Even if the administration were not so disastrously inept at dealing with those projects, it still would not have the energies left to make a serious impression on us Israelis and Palestinians beyond the impact of Bush's single solid contribution: making a two-state solution official American policy. Nor did the creation of the Quartet (the US, UN, EU and Russia) to sponsor and oversee the roadmap disguise this basic reality. Any observer with eyes in his or her head knew this from the start of the roadmap and behaved accordingly.
A few days ago, as I was contemplating what to write in this article, a headline in the online Washington Post caught my eye: "Five years, two words, no letup". Aha, I said to myself, in Washington too they're reassessing the roadmap (which is often spelled road map) five years later. I clicked on the headline, only to discover that the event being commemorated was Bush's notorious "mission accomplished" statement regarding Iraq, made on board an aircraft carrier five years ago.
That was a statement of ignorance. We could be charitable and assume the roadmap, too, was the product of ignorance. More likely, though, from the standpoint of Washington, Jerusalem and Ramallah, the roadmap has been an exercise in cynicism: keeping the parties busy enough to avoid a declaration of out-and-out failure while all three of their leaders are either too uninterested or too weak to make a difference. Meanwhile, the clock is still ticking on a two-state solution.- Published 5/5/2008 © bitterlemons.org
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and a former special adviser to PM Ehud Barak.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
A roadmap to nowhere
by Joharah Baker
For some reason, the United States still insists an agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis can be reached by the end of this year. For the Americans to say this--whether they actually believe it or not--goes beyond bizarre, given the fact that the now almost-defunct "roadmap for peace" was brokered by none other than themselves.
It has been five years since US President George W. Bush first introduced his plan--a labyrinth of timelines, benchmarks and reciprocal steps to be undertaken by both Palestinians and Israelis--which was ultimately supposed to lead to a solution to this decades-long conflict. Five years down the line, the parties are still struggling with the obligations of phase I.
To an outsider, the plan has the potential to be optimistically real. Palestinians must end violence and Israel must freeze settlement activity and commit to the establishment of a two-state solution, which if all goes well, would be the culmination of arduous efforts and ultimately a permanent status agreement.
However, to those of us on the inside, the roadmap was always bound to lead down the proverbial drain like all the incomprehensive and insufficient agreements before it. The reason is plain and simple, but one which eludes the major "peacemakers" in this conflict. As long as the roadmap, or any other agreement--and we have all witnessed the demise of the Oslo accords--does not unequivocally address and demand an end to Israel's military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, nothing will ever come good.
This may sound simplistic to some. They will say that negotiating is the path on which modern and civilized countries reach agreements and compromise the only answer to avoiding more strife. However, Palestinians have already offered a generous compromise in the form of accepting a state on 22 percent of historical Palestine. This is a fact not appreciated by many.
The Palestinian leadership made that decision in 1988 and has not reneged on it since, neither will they in the future. That is not even the problem, which is more the fact that when the leadership, under the late President Yasser Arafat, decided to essentially move from the realm of revolution to one of diplomacy and negotiations, it became bound to this track forever.
Ask almost any Palestinian and they will say the roadmap has failed thus far because of Israeli settlements. To a large extent, this is true. The first phase of the roadmap requires that Israel "freeze all settlement activity and dismantle outposts". Israel has completely disregarded this clause and continues to this day to announce tenders for additional housing units in West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements. This is particularly true for Jewish settlements around Jerusalem, a move that can only be understood in the context of Israel's bid to retain as much West Bank land around Jerusalem as possible in any final agreement.
Israel's unfettered hand at creating facts on the ground is compounded by the blatant endorsement of the roadmap's broker, the United States. While the US pays lip service to Palestinian demands for a halt to settlement activity, calling it "unhelpful" or on good days "an impediment to the peace process", in reality the Americans have done nothing to stop it. In Bush's April 2004 letter to then Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, he writes, "In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949." Never mind that international law deems all Israeli settlements built on all land occupied in the 1967 war as illegal and calls for their dismantlement. Yet another fact lost in translation.
The separation wall being built in and around the West Bank is yet another indication that Israel has no intention of implementing its roadmap obligations. While phase I requires that Israel improve the Palestinians' humanitarian situation, the wall and the social and economic isolation it creates (not to mention its political ramifications) along with the continued siege on Gaza show that the Palestinian "humanitarian situation" is not very high on Israel's list of priorities.
This is not to say that Palestinians are not at fault as well. While they have made many a concerted effort to live up to their obligations in terms of curbing "terrorist" groups (a peek into Palestinian prisons filled with Hamas and Islamic Jihad loyalists is enough evidence of this), they have their own internal issues to sort out. With the Hamas-Fateh rift only growing wider despite various efforts to bridge the gap, the Palestinians are moving farther and farther away from presenting a united front. The division has cost Palestinians their modest strength in their negotiating position and has chipped away at the credibility of both leaderships with their own people.
Nonetheless, it all comes down to intention. Israel has made no secret of its intention to keep hold of major settlement blocs in the West Bank. It does not plan on relinquishing East Jerusalem, which Palestinians consider the capital of their future Palestinian state, nor does it accept the right of return for Palestinian refugees. In simple terms, if Israel does end its 40 year long military occupation, it will leave behind a disconnected, geographically and economically unviable entity that will render even Bush's Swiss cheese analogy a rose-tinted vision.
In terms of the Palestinians, perhaps their major flaw is relying too heavily on Arab countries, especially on those who have already signed peace deals with Israel without even a promise of restoring the rights of their Palestinian brethren.
As for the United States and the Quartet, the years of failed agreements and bitter conflict should be enough to drive home one crucial point. Without the promise of a just and comprehensive solution that entails a complete end to the Israeli occupation, the roadmap will eventually and inexorably meet the fate of all the other agreements before it.- Published 5/5/2008 © bitterlemons.org
Joharah Baker is a writer with Miftah, the Palestinian Initiative for Global Dialogue and Democracy. She is a former editor of the Palestine Report.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
The roadmap revisited
by Naomi Chazan
The "Performance-Based Road Map to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict" highlights both the good intentions and the misplaced conceptions of its promulgators. Five years after its adoption, it lingers not as a tool for the achievement of a sustainable agreement but as a burdensome impediment to its realization.
The roadmap was construed as a decidedly goal-oriented document. Substantively, it corrected the most glaring lacuna of the Oslo process by explicitly defining the destination of diplomatic efforts: "the emergence of an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state [that]...will resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and end the occupation that began in 1967."
Strategically, however, it was flawed from the outset. It sought to correct, but not to diverge from, the step-by-step approach undertaken in Oslo by setting out distinct phases, compressed timetables, clear benchmarks and visible monitoring mechanisms (overseen by the international community in the form of the Quartet). The built-in conditionalities on progress, coupled with the loose dependence on "the good faith of the parties", meant that it was doubtful--if not thoroughly unrealistic--to expect that the chosen route could lead to the desired destination. Despite the shift in the locus of decision-making from the parties themselves to global actors, the reluctance of Israeli and Palestinian officials to agree to the roadmap's main provisions, along with the numerous reservations they attached, is testimony to the unease with which it was greeted.
Since its inception, the roadmap has been stuck in its first phase, ostensibly aimed at enhancing security, improving the humanitarian situation, fortifying Palestinian institutions and halting all settlement activity. Indeed, the obstacles strewn on the tortuous path to the two-state objective have become increasingly daunting, effectively transforming the task of overcoming them into an aim in itself rather than a means to its attainment.
Conceptually, then, the phased approach has, for the second time since 1993, failed to stand the test of time. Its underlying logic is inherently faulty. First, it assumes symmetry in Palestinian and Israeli capacities when the formal standing of the two sides differs dramatically and asymmetry reigns. Second, it presumes that the creation of a supportive environment is conducive to diplomatic progress when in all probability amelioration of conditions on the ground is an outcome rather than a prerequisite of successful talks. Third, it relies on stringent verification and oversight mechanisms when the willingness of international actors to employ these tools has been consistently lacking. Fourth, it hopelessly conflates objectives and means, making forward movement on a pre-set trajectory more important than the fulfillment of its ultimate purpose. Finally, and most seriously, it holds final-status negotiations hostage to the purveyors of violence by granting them veto power over the diplomatic process.
Thus, ironically, the phased strategy ingrained in the roadmap--precisely because it dictated a series of steps necessary for the commencement of permanent settlement talks--enabled the pursuit of unilateral measures fundamentally antithetical to a negotiated resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. PM Ariel Sharon's one-sided disengagement from Gaza was undertaken within this rubric; so, too, was the construction of the security barrier. The roadmap, in sharp contrast to its declared brief, gradually became an unconscious instrument for the legitimation of unilateralism.
The striking drawbacks of the roadmap did not, however, lead to its abandonment. The Annapolis meeting in November 2007 not only resurrected the outdated document; it embraced its weakest component. The bilateral permanent settlement talks were (much in line with the third phase of the roadmap) detached from its confining framework, as were the accompanying multilateral economic and institution-enhancing measures. But the implementation of the initial phase of the roadmap was reincorporated into the three-track package under the direct supervision of the United States. It was thus relegated not only to a secondary--facilitating--role; it was also stripped of its stated purpose.
The remnants of the impracticable course charted by the roadmap, far from being jettisoned in the last-ditch effort to bring about a two-state solution by agreement, may yet lay the foundation for the achievement of a long-term ceasefire. Thus, should this endeavor survive, it would do so as an exercise in conflict management, in direct contradiction to its professed aim of resolving the conflict.
The roadmap, in retrospect, stands as a monument to the inadequacies of incrementalism. Designed as a guiding compass leading to a two-state outcome, it has been increasingly utilized as a diversion from this goal, rendering it palpably self-defeating. This transmutation offers further testimony--if such is still needed--to the strategic misconceptions that have accompanied Israeli-Palestinian initiatives to date.
Clearly no interim measures, no consecutive phases, no step-by-step approach can act as a substitute for full-scale negotiations on all outstanding issues. Without a substantial conceptual shift, along with the reverse engineering it entails, the promise embedded in the roadmap may become the victim of its pitfalls.- Published 5/5/2008 © bitterlemons.org
Naomi Chazan is professor emerita of political science at the Hebrew University and a former member of Knesset (Meretz).
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