By Abraham D. Sofaer

Immediately after the 1991 Gulf War, the first Bush administration convened in Madrid an international conference on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. This was an event that political leaders all over the world had been pursuing as if it were the holy grail of international diplomacy. It set in motion a decade of "peacemaking" that included the treaty between Israel and Jordan but whose most visible fruit was the Oslo accords of 1993.

In recent months, three years into the bloody Palestinian assault on Israel that the Oslo peace process became, the same dynamic has once again been in play, as international diplomats and government officials have scrambled to take advantage of the anticipated defeat of Saddam Hussein by pushing forward their preferred solutions. President Bush himself predicted in late February that "success in Iraq could . . . begin a new stage of Middle Eastern peace," while England and other European nations, keen to demonstrate their good faith to the Arab world, have gone much farther. In the very first week of the war, the British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, complaining about an alleged double standard when it came to "injustice against the Palestinians," equated U.N. resolutions concerning Saddam Hussein's threats to international peace with those condemning Israel on a range of less significant matters.

A more evenhanded view underlies the latest diplomatic initiative to address the Israel-Palestinian dispute. This is the famous "road map" prepared by the "quartet" of the United States, the European Union, the U.N. and Russia. The road map, released earlier this week, proposes a two-state solution to the conflict, to be reached in three phases.

In Phase I, the Palestinians are to "declare" an end to violence and terrorism; undertake "visible" efforts to prevent attacks on Israelis, consolidate all security forces under an "empowered" interior minister, and restructure Palestinian institutions through numerous, detailed measures. Israel, for its part, is to call for an end to violence against Palestinians; cooperate in rebuilding a viable Palestinian security force; cease all actions "undermining trust," including deportations, demolition of homes and destruction of Palestinian infrastructure; take measures to improve the humanitarian situation; and "immediately" dismantle "settlement outposts erected since March 2001" and freeze all other settlement activity, including "natural growth."

All this is to happen by next month. Then comes Phase II, which foresees the "option" of creating a Palestinian state, with provisional borders, attributes of sovereignty and maximum territorial continuity; the completion date for this phase is the end of 2003. Phase III, which is to result in a final agreement between the parties settling all outstanding issues, is to be completed by the end of 2005.

The road map was given a major boost on March 14 when President Bush affirmed his support for it and promised to publish it as soon as the Palestinians appointed a new prime minister with "real authority." British Prime Minister Tony Blair promptly signaled his readiness to put pressure on Israel to move the process forward whether Palestinian violence ceases or not. Meanwhile, both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have claimed to accept the road map "in principle"--a standard Middle East negotiating ploy--although both sides have major differences with it. In particular, Ariel Sharon's government has insisted that Palestinians must end all attacks before Israel is required to take any steps on the proposed "road."

Quite apart from its wildly optimistic timetable, many substantive objections can and should be raised to the road map. Still, it may be stipulated that the plan's aim--a two-state solution--is a reasonable one, accepted by the present Israeli government. But the mere recitation of a valid aim, even when coupled with a scheme for negotiations and escalating concessions, will hardly suffice to realize the peace envisioned by the road map's authors. The problem is that this road map, like many plans for Middle East peace, expects to bring an end to Palestinian violence against Israel without addressing the reasons why the Palestinians have deliberately and repeatedly chosen that path.

Dennis Ross, the former U.S. negotiator for the Middle East, recently admitted that ever since the last Gulf War, he and other U.S. negotiators failed to take seriously the Palestinian Authority's steadfast refusal to end violence. (As Mr. Ross put it in State Department doublespeak: "The prudential issues of compliance were neglected and politicized by the Americans in favor of keeping the peace process afloat.") Instead, in the face of the continuing violence, the U.S. kept pressing Israel to make further concessions, thereby convincing Palestinians that they could go on cheating and killing and still procure the benefits for which they had been negotiating. In the end, it seemed reasonable to suppose that they might even force Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza as it had been forced to withdraw from southern Lebanon in the summer of 2000.

But Palestinian violence is a much more serious and difficult problem than even Dennis Ross now admits. It is the product of an environment that fosters, shelters, encourages and rewards acts aimed at nullifying Israel's very existence. And that environment is itself the creation not only of the Palestinians, or of the Arabs, but also of the international community--including the U.S. To change this situation requires changing not just the actions and attitudes of Palestinians but the policies and practices of others, again including the U.S. No recognition of these facts, let alone any acknowledgment of the need to do something about them, has been made part of the road map--which is again why it shares the basic flaw of every Middle East peace plan that has preceded it.

The policies and practices I have in mind can be broken down into categories, of which the first has to do with terrorism.

The United States portrays itself, properly, as leading the world-wide effort to combat terrorism. Some longstanding American policies, however, have contributed to terrorism, and especially to terrorism against Israel. Although steps have been taken to rectify matters in the wake of September 11, terrorists and supporters of terrorism continue to be abetted by the U.S. in their determination to control the destiny of both Israelis and Palestinians.

Consider, first, the longstanding strategy of Arab states and the Palestine Liberation Organization to keep as many Palestinians as possible living under horrible conditions in refugee camps, close to Israel. The camps, first set up after the 1948 war that followed the establishment of the state of Israel, are administered by an arm of the United Nations, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency. UNRWA now spends more than $400 million a year to assist a population that has swollen over the past half century to some 4.5 million, relatively few of whom are refugees by any accepted definition of the term. The whole system could not have been better designed both to endanger Israel's security and to damage its moral reputation.

In the late 1980s, when I was running the legal adviser's office in the State Department, my colleague Nicholas Rostow and I proposed to Secretary George Shultz that the U.S. move toward ending its financial support of UNRWA programs that perpetuated the exploitation of refugees as tools of the radical Palestinian cause. The "building"--as the department is called by insiders--rose up in opposition. Our diplomats acknowledged that the camps were awful places that bred hatred and terrorism. But, they claimed, it was too late to do anything about it, and anyway the camps would disappear once peace was achieved. They declined to consider the possibility that the camps were helping to prevent peace from being achieved.

What would an alternative look like? It would include plans for building permanent homes for Palestinian refugees within Palestinian territories on the West Bank or in nearby states. As the scholar Scott B. Lasensky has recently suggested, incentive programs could also be put in place to encourage refugees to relocate and neighboring Arab states to accept them. Such resettlement could commence immediately; as long as it does not, we will be continuing to aid in solidifying the sentiments that lead to terrorism.

Second, the Palestinian educational system is an abomination; it, too, is funded by the U.N., with the substantial support of American taxpayers. In their schools, Palestinian children are taught mendacious versions of their own history as well as of Jewish culture, history and beliefs. Generations have been fed on propaganda that denies the legitimacy of the state of Israel while simultaneously glorifying intolerance, fanaticism and "martyrdom."

Very little that is actually useful--engineering, computer technology, science, finance--is taught in these schools. In the private, religiously funded schools, things are still worse. There, in the words of Itamar Marcus, "children have been taught to hate, and to die for Allah. Their childhood has been destroyed by indoctrination to hate and kill Jews as well as Americans and Westerners in general." The U.N. and the U.S. have allowed these terrible practices to continue for years. Although efforts have been made recently to restrict the flow of funds to some schools, little if anything has been done to halt the teachings themselves. How can Palestinians realistically be expected to accept Israel as long as they continue to convey to their children that Israel is unacceptable, and that terrorism against it is a noble undertaking?


Abraham D. Sofaer, a senior fellow at Stanford Univerity's Hoover Institution, served as legal adviser to the State Department from 1985 to 1990. The complete article of the author appears in the May 2003 edition of Commentary.

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