The Jerusalem Post, November 12, 2002


By Zalman Shoval

(The writer is a former ambassador to the United States.)

...One cannot help feeling that the road map was concocted by too many cooks, not all of them using the same recipe..


With the approaching elections, the so-called "road map" for settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become also a concrete and burning domestic political issue, not least in the leadership contest in the Likud.

Already in his June speech, US President George W. Bush referred to some of the political coordinates of a future settlement. Though neither a fully developed plan nor a precise timetable, the speech listed the stops, as the US administration saw them, on the way to peace.

While the first stops on the map looked reasonable and positive - e.g. the imperative to end terror and violence, the need to change the Palestinian leadership, the elimination of institutional corruption, etc. - it also was clear that some of the ensuing stops could be much more problematic, not least the envisioned end-of-the-line, namely Palestinian statehood. After all, what guarantee is there that the president's vision of a "democratic, stable, Palestinian state, living in peace alongside Israel" won't turn out to be just another aggressive, brutal, undemocratic - probably irredentist - rogue state like so many others in the Arab world?

Still, the Israeli government was right in reacting positively to the speech - not only because of the close relationship with America, but also in assuming that the ideas and principles expressed in it were just that, "ideas and principles," and not concrete proposals.

However, as it turned out, the draft of the road map which the prime minister received during his visit to Washington and which Assistant Secretary of State Bill Burns brought with him on his recent Middle East tour, was a horse of a different color - eliminating or changing some of the main stops on the way.

Not only are there suddenly strict and quite unrealistic time-tables, but the perhaps most negative aspect of the new draft is that while it expects the Palestinians to "reiterate" their commitment regarding "Israel's right to exist in peace and security" and to "call" for an end to the armed intifada (bullets are out, but apparently not stones) and incitement - without specifying who or how Palestinian compliance would be monitored - Israel is asked to pay for this post-dated check in advance: to facilitate travel of Palestinian officials (in effect the current Palestinian leadership) "without restriction"; to lift curfews and end "attacks in civilian areas" (i.e. the very areas out of which the terrorist organizations, particularly Hamas and Islamic Jihad, deliberately concentrate their bases of operation); terminate demolition of Palestinian homes and deportations of terrorists (which is one of the measures employed by Israel to cope with the scourge of suicide bombings); to dismantle some settlement outposts; and hand over large sums of money to the present, corrupt Palestinian Authority.

In other words, it's words and declarations against concrete deeds. Words in the Arab world are cheap, and as America's former chief peace negotiator, Dennis Ross, has reminded us, anything Israel gives up is irretrievable; anything the Palestinians concede can be reneged on the very next day. One only has to remember that "annulling" the Palestinian National Charter, in the presence of president Clinton, did not in the least stop the continuation of Palestinian terror attacks - nor did it change Arafat's position, as became clear to Clinton and Barak in Camp David and Taba, of denying the Jewish people's right to their homeland, or even of the very existence of a Jewish people.

Hard on the heels of the first stage (which, by the way, doesn't require the Palestinians to hand over illegal arms), comes stage two. This stage, in the proposed wording, in effect puts to naught the previously enunciated principle (including by Bush) that ending terror and violence must be a pre-condition to further diplomatic engagement.

As the Washington Institute's Rob Satloff has pointed out, if there is "sequencing," it's actually the other way around: Israel is called upon to make substantive and irreversible steps in advance of anything the Palestinians will (or won't) do.

In stage two, divided into two phases, there is to be "continued"(?) Palestinian political reform and "free, open, and fair elections" for the PLC with Israel withdrawing the IDF from the areas it has occupied since September 8, 2000 in response to Arafat's terror offensive - without expressly making said withdrawal contingent on an actual end to Palestinian terror and violence.

Furthermore, Israel should now permit the opening of official Palestinian economic institutions in its capital, Jerusalem. Israel would also have to freeze all settlement activity, "including natural growth of settlements" (one only hopes that this won't require the 250,000 Israelis living in the settlements to agree to compulsory birth- control).

At this point the monitoring mechanism of the "Quartet" (US, EU, UN, Russia) will be established. But it isn't difficult to discern that parts of this mechanism will be driven more by political motives - some of them highly questionable from Israel's and America's traditional point of view - than by concerns about the actual performance of the Palestinians.

For instance, the clear implication of the creation of a "permanent" monitoring mechanism by the Quartet is the not overly disguised intention to internationalize the peace process (as Arafat had wanted all along) and perhaps also to push particular political or economic interests by one or more of the parties.

There are several negative implications to this: Israel's freedom of action in matters vital to its security will be severely curtailed, as certain members of the Quartet will tend to prefer putting pressure on Israel rather than on the Arab side. Israel, thus, must now make it very clear that under no circumstances will it allow outsiders to determine if and when it takes security- related steps against an outside threat.

At this stage, called "transition," the Quartet will also convene an international conference to launch negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians "on the possibility of a state with provisional borders by the end of 2003." This is not what was previously stated by the US, which spoke of a "provisional state," not the same thing as "provisional borders."

Concurrently, there would be "further action on settlements," hinting that at least some settlements are to be removed before a permanent status agreement has been reached or even negotiated. Progress into the third and last phase (2004 - 2005), based on judgment of the Quartet [author's emphasis], would start with another international conference to launch permanent status negotiations, including on final borders, Jerusalem, refugees and settlements (all or several of which may once again turn out to be deal-breakers). The Quartet, however, or some of its members, intend to play more than a stage-manager's role in determining the final denouement of the process.

YASSER ARAFAT isn't mentioned in the road map, perhaps because the authors couldn't agree among themselves if or how to deal with him. Be this as it may, his role can hardly be deemed irrelevant, as in more than a few matters the document would rely in practice on his participation and support. And, as the goings-on of the last few days have shown, he has no intention of leaving the stage - regardless of Bush's call for "new" Palestinian leadership.

One cannot help feeling that this road map was concocted by too many cooks, not all of them using the same recipe.

One may also assume that the US at this point in time is principally, and rightly, focused on the Iraqi issue, and that not everything in the present draft actually reflects America's intentions. The US probably assesses that the successful conclusion of the Iraqi campaign will create a completely new political situation in the Middle East. This will affect the Palestinians, who will be forced, for their own good, to finally understand that the only way forward for them is by accommodation based on compromise with Israel - not by continuing intransigence and violence.

Israel shares US priorities and has no interest in embarking now on a public debate with the most friendly American administration that ever existed. At the same time, it cannot afford - by not making its position and concerns crystal clear through suitable channels - to risk creating a potentially dangerous momentum later on.

Israel would readily accept a road map leading toward real peace and security - but not one that's a "road to perdition."

(c) Jerusalem Post

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