The Road To Perfidy

By Shawn Pine

As President Bush ponders his trip to the Middle East to facilitate the road map to peace plan, its failure is already cast. Proponents of the road map call it a historical, pragmatic approach. Indeed, a reading of the text does require both sides to undertake tangible, pragmatic steps to resolve the conflict. However, anyone experienced with the conflict knows that the obligations required by both sides in the first phase are unobtainable and therefore the road map is a facade. The road map is destined to fail as it is fundamentally flawed and fails to address the fundamental core problems that underscore the conflict.

What precludes peace from being reached between the Israelis and Palestinians is the fact that the Palestinians have not abandoned their desire to destroy the Jewish State, either through its physical destruction or through their demand of the "right of return." Indeed, recent polling among the Palestinians indicates that the time is not propitious to return to a repackaged form of the Oslo process. A process that was exemplified by a process of tangible Israeli concessions for vociferous, albeit vacuous, series of commitments by the Palestinians. In an April 2003 poll conducting by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre, 75.3 percent of respondents favored the continuation of the intifada and some 59.9 percent continued to support suicide bombers.

There are signs that shifts are beginning to occur within Palestinian society that might ultimately bring about the requisite changes in Palestinian culture. The percentages of those favoring continuation of the intifada and suicide bombers were slightly lower than the percentage cited in previous polls. Moreover, the recent spontaneous protests by some 800 Palestinians against Hamas are the first notable expression that a fissure may be developing within the Palestinian society and that the Palestinians are coming to the realization that violent struggle has done little to facilitate the achievement of Palestinian national aspirations. However, although an encouraging manifestation for those seeking a peaceful resolution to the conflict, it has been an isolated event which indicates that the Palestinian eschewing of terrorism is in its embryonic stage. In a society in which "martyrdom" is worshipped and religious and political leaders urge its young to sacrifice themselves and to kill Jews, achieving the requisite change in Palestinian culture will be a generational process and not one that will occur over night.

Until such time as a fundamental change within Palestinian society occurs any progress towards achieving a lasting peace between the two peoples will be ephemeral. Unfortunately, previous attempts to resolve the conflict, and the current situation, will ensure that the conditions under which the road map will be implemented will not be fundamentally different from those under which the Oslo process proceeded. Progress towards a real and comprehensive peace will occur only with the political isolation of Arafat and the destruction of Hamas and Islamic Jihad as effective terrorist and political forces. Only then will more pragmatic and reasonable Palestinian voices be able to speak out and compete for the hearts and minds of the Palestinian people. Until such time, any attempt to reach a final settlement will not only proves fruitless, but will exacerbate the pain and suffering of both peoples.

Given this reality, it is hard to fathom the motivations behind the decision to implement the road map at this time. Undoubtedly the decision by the United States to present the road map is largely part of the quid pro quo for Arab acquiescence and British support for US military operations against Iraq. The destination of the road map is the creation of a Palestinian State and a final and comprehensive settlement of the Israel-Palestinian conflict by 2005. By setting a date the US has placed Israel in an untenable position. Regardless of the lack of tangible progress that will be made in implementing the components of the road map the Quartet will seek to achieve a final settlement by the end date. This will be done only by forcing Israel to make the type of concessions that were previously offered by Ehud Barak, and rejected by Arafat, without compelling the Palestinians to fulfill any of their obligations under the road map. It is the ultimate irony that the United States, having exerted so much political, economic, and human resources to remove two despotic regimes within the past two years, is now embarking on a political effort to create a similar regime in Gaza and the West bank.

The US will use its considerable influence to pressure the Sharon government to make tangible concessions to the Palestinians, such as easing the closure of the territories and freezing settlement expansion, in exchange for promises from the Palestinians to dismantle its terrorist infrastructure and take action against Hamas and Islamic Jihad. However, in reality there is little desire or motivation by the Palestinian Authority to take such action. Indeed, with the facade of Arafat being a viable peace partner having been removed, there should be little expectation that substantive progress towards peace will be achieved. On the contrary, Arafat will seek to undermine Abbas=E2=80=99 political base while competing with Hamas and Islamic Jihad for the hearts and minds of the Palestinian people.

Whatever the personal desire of Abbas, he clearly lacks the political and military support to confront Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Moreover, whatever the facade of cooperation that exists between Abbas and Arafat, any expansion of power and authority that Abbas achieves comes at the expense of Arafat. Consequently, Abbas only hope for his political, and personal, survival is to function as a figurehead for Arafat.

If history is any indication, Abbas will argue against immediate Palestinian implementation of their obligations called for in the road map. Abbas will cite his lack of political influence and credibility among the Palestinians. He will argue that he needs to deliver more tangible concessions to his people. The US, faced with a barrage of pressure from its European and Arab allies will be hard pressed not to pressure Israel to make such concessions. This will set in motion the same cycle that occurred during the Oslo process in which the Israelis will seek to ease the conditions within the territories which will enable Palestinian terrorist groups to launch more frequent and effective terrorist attacks. These attacks will precipitate an Israeli response, which in turn will lead those promoting the road map to exert more pressure on Israel. The end result will be something similar to what occurred under the Oslo process.

However, if the international community is serious in implementing a process that has a chance of success, then there is a way to test both the intentions of the Palestinians and the willingness of the Israelis to make the "painful" concessions alluded to by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. During his visit, the President should reach an agreement with Sharon in securing Israeli withdraw from a defined number of Palestinian villages and towns in which there is a known and identified Hamas or Islamic Jihad presence. The Israeli withdrawal should occur concomitantly with the introduction of Palestinian security forces into these villages and towns. This means that Israel should not withdraw from the areas until the Palestinian security forces are prepared to accept responsibility for the areas turned over to their control. Additionally, Israel should share with the Palestinian security forces intelligence information they have on persons within those areas identified with Hamas and Islamic Jihad. If the Palestinians undertake the steps outlined in the road map to arrest terrorist member and destroy the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure, then Israel can continue its withdraw from other Palestinian towns and villages. However, each withdrawal should only occur when Palestinian security forces indicate that they are prepared to fulfill their obligations under the road map.

The importance of this approach cannot be underestimated. This process would test the Palestinians willingness to fulfill it obligation under the road map to "undertake visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt, and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere and to "confront all those engaged in terror and dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure" while testing the Israelis obligation under the road map to withdraw "as comprehensive security performance moves forward progressively from areas occupied since September 28, 2000."

Unlike the Oslo accords, this approach would be a real demonstration of the willingness of both sides to implement the road map. Unfortunately, that is precisely why the Palestinians, and its supporters, will militate against such an approach. Rather than address the core problem in reaching a final settlement (namely a Palestinian desire to destroy the Jewish State), proponents of the Palestinians attempt to obfuscate the core obstacles to achieving a final settlement. The attempts to draw a de facto moral equivalency between the Israeli building of settlements and the Palestinian use of terrorism, is astounding given the lessens that should have been learned from the Oslo process. Historically, while the expansion of settlements is an irritant, it has been a negligible deterrent in reaching a comprehensive settlement.

Whether Israel continues expanding, freezes or dismantles its settlements on the West Bank and Gaza is irrelevant to obtaining peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Settlement activity in Gaza did not preclude the Israeli - Egyptian peace treaty and the subsequent dismantling of settlements in the late 1970=E2=80=99s. Moreover, settlement activity throughout the last 40 years did not preclude Ehud Barak from offering Arafat some 98 percent of the West Bank and Gaza in a comprehensive settlement.

As President Bush ponders on how to implement the "road map" he should be reminded of a time honored fundamental principle of military leadership. It states that a leader should never ask his subordinates to do anything that he would not do himself. As America leads its allies in the war against terrorism it would behoove our policy makers to follow that advice, lest they embolden our enemies and alienate our allies.


Shawn Pine is a Middle East military and strategic analyst and a research associate with the Ariel Center for Policy Research. He has published a myriad of articles and policy papers concerning the prevailing military and strategic environment in the Middle East. His works have appeared in Israel Affairs, The International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, The Jerusalem Post, and Nativ. He also contributed an article to the work From Rabin to Netanyahu: Israel's Troubled Agenda. He received a Master of Arts degree in Middle Eastern studies from the University of Texas at Austin and holds a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service degree from Georgetown University. He is currently a Major in the active US Army Reserves specializing in counterintelligence. Pine is also a research associate for the Freeman Center For Strategic Studies.

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