Or Much Ado About Nothing

This could have been an important document, IF…

IF all the parties really wanted to achieve a fair compromise.

IF Sharon and Co. were really prepared to give back the occupied territories and dismantle the settlements.

IF the Americans were willing to exert serious pressure on Israel.

IF there were a president in Washington like Dwight Eisenhower, who did not give a damn about Jewish votes and donations.

IF George Bush were convinced that the Road Map serves his interests, instead of being a bone to throw to his British poodle.

IF Tony Blair thought that it serves his interests, instead of being a crumb to throw to his domestic rivals.

IF the United Nations had any real power.

IF Europe had any real power.

IF Russia had any real power.

IF my grandmother had wheels.

All these Ifs belong to an imaginary world. Therefore, nothing will come from all the talking about this document. The embryo is dead in the womb of its mother, the Quartet.

In spite of this, let’s try to treat the matter in all seriousness. Is this a good document? Could it be helpful, if all the Ifs were realistic?

In order to answer this seriously, one has to distinguish between the declared objectives and the road that is supposed to lead to them.

The objectives are very positive. They are identical with the aims of the Israeli peace movement: an end to the occupation, the establishment of the independent State of Palestine side-by-side with the State of Israel, Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Syrian peace, the integration of Israel in the region.

In this respect, the Road Map goes further than the Oslo agreement. In the Oslo “Declaration of Principles” there was a giant hole: it did not spell out what was to come after the long interim stages. Without a clear final aim, the interim stages had no clear purpose. Therefore the Oslo process died with Yitzhaq Rabin.

The Road Map confirms that there now exists a worldwide consensus about these objectives. This fact will remain even if nothing comes out of it. Those of us who remember that only 35 years ago there were hardly a handful of people in the world who believed in this vision can draw profound satisfaction from this Road Map. It shows that we have won the struggle for world public opinion.

But let’s not exaggerate: in this document, too, there is a gaping hole in the definition of the aims. It does not say what the borders of the future Palestinian State should be, neither explicitly nor implicitly. The Green Line is not even mentioned. That by itself is enough to invalidate the whole structure. Ariel Sharon talks about a Palestinian state in 40% of the “territories” ­ equivalent to less than 9% of Palestine under the British Mandate. Does anyone believe that this will bring peace?

When we pass from poetry to prose, from the mountaintop of the aims to the road that is supposed to get us there, the warning signs become more and more frequent. This is a perilous road with many curves and obstacles. Even a very brave athlete would shudder at the thought of having to run this course.

The road is divided into phases. In every phase the parties must fulfil certain obligations. At the end of each phase the Quartet must decide whether the obligations have been completely fulfilled, before entering the next one. At the end, the hoped-for peace will come, God willing.

Even if all the parties were imbued with goodwill, it would be extremely difficult. When David Lloyd-George, as British Prime Minister, decided to end the British occupation of Ireland, he observed that one cannot cross an abyss in two jumps. The initiators of the Road Map propose, in effect, to cross the Israeli-Palestinian abyss in many small hops.

First question: who is this “Quartet” that has to decide at every point whether the two parties have fulfilled their obligations, and a new phase can be entered?

At first glance, there is a balance between the four players: the United Nations, the United States, Europe and Russia. It is rather like a commercial arbitration: each side appoints one arbitrator, and the two arbitrators together choose a third one. Judgement is reached by majority decision and is binding on both parties.

This could work. The United States are close to Israel, Europe and Russia are acceptable to the Palestinians. The UN representative would have the casting vote.

Not at all. According to the document, the Quartet must take all decisions unanimously. The Americans have a veto, which means that Sharon has a veto. Without his agreement, nothing can be decided. Need more be said?

Second question: When will it end?

Well, there is no clear-cut timetable for passing from one phase to the next. The document vaguely mentions several vague dates, but they are difficult to take seriously. The first phase should have started in October, 2002, and come to a close in May 2003. In the real world, the Map will be shown to the Israelis and the Palestinians for the first time in May, and only then will the serious haggling begin. Nobody can foresee when the implementation of the first phase will actually begin. And in the meantime

It should be remembered: in the Oslo agreements many dates were fixed, and almost all of them were missed (generally by the Israeli side). As the good Rabin declared: “There are no sacred dates.”

Third question: Is there any kind of balance between the obligations on the two parties? The answer must be “no”.

In the first phase, the Palestinians must stop the armed Intifada, establish close security cooperation with the Israelis and recognize Israel’s right to exist in peace and security. They must also appoint an “empowered” Prime Minister (meaning, in effect, the neutralization of the elected president, Yasser Arafat) and start the drafting of a constitution that will meet with the approval of the Quartet.

What must Israel do at the same time? It must enable Palestinian officials (note: officials. This does not apply to the rest of the population) to move from place to place, improve the humanitarian situation, stop attacks on civilians and the demolition of homes and pay the Palestinians the money due to them. Also, it will dismantle “settlement outposts” erected since Sharon came to power, in violation of the government’s guidelines. Who will decide to whom this applies? There is also no mention of freezing settlement activity in this phase.

Does anyone believe that Prime Minister Abu Mazen could put an end to Hamas and Jihad attacks without any political quid pro quo at all, and while the settlements keep expanding?

After this phase, the Palestinians must reform their institutions, create a constitution “based on strong parliamentary democracy” (they will not be allowed to have an American presidential system, for fear of Arafat retaining some powers). Only then, “as comprehensive security performance moves forward”, the Israeli army will “withdraw progressively from areas occupied since September 28, 2000”. Not immediately, not in one withdrawal, but bit by bit, “progressively”. Not from areas B and C, but only from area A. They will be where they were before the present Intifada.
(There is an old Jewish joke about a family that complains about being crowded together in one room. The rabbi advises them to bring in a goat, too.

Later, when the family complains that life has become intolerable, the rabbi tells them to take the goat out again. Suddenly they feel that they have a lot of space. This time the Israeli army is told to remove the goat, but the Palestinians are told to remove father and mother.)

After all this, the next phase will start; the Palestinians will adopt their constitution and hold free elections, the Egyptians and Jordanians will send their ambassadors back to Israel and the Israeli government will, at last, freeze settlement activity.

The next phase will focus on the “possible” creation of an independent Palestinian state with “provisional borders”. So, long after all attacks have been stopped, there will be an “option” of creating a Palestinian state in Area A, a tiny part of what used to be Palestine. According to the Roadmap, this should happen by the end of 2003, but it is clear that, if at all, this will come about much later. It is also stated that “further action on settlements” will be a part of the process. What does this mean? Not the dismantling of a single settlement, not even the most remote and isolated one.

After all this comes about, the Quartet will decide (again: unanimously – only with the agreement of the Americans) that the time has come for negotiations aimed at a “permanent status agreement”, hopefully in 2005, including discussion of items such as borders, Jerusalem, refugees and settlements. If Sharon or his successor want it, there will be an agreement. In not, then not.

The truth is, in this whole document there is not one word that Sharon could not accept. After all, with the help of Bush he can torpedo any step at any time.

To sum up: Much Ado about Nothing. As evidenced by the fact that neither Sharon nor the settlers are upset.

URI AVNERY is an Israeli journalist. His essays are included in The Other Israel: Voices of Refusal and Dissent.
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URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.