Roadmap to Nowhere

The “roadmap” to peace between Israel and the Palestinians, finally released with little fanfare or enthusiasm on May 1 after almost a year of aimless wandering , is surely doomed. Near fatal internal flaws and severe political constraints on its implementation render it a roadmap to nowhere, destined for the same junk yard where the Mitchell Plan, the Tenet Plan, and the Zinni Plan have rusted for the two years of the Bush-Sharon stewardship over the so-called “peace process.”

The roadmap, first drafted in the fall of 2002, is the joint product of the Quartet, the informal diplomatic combo made up of Colin Powell for the U.S., Kofi Annan for the UN, Javier Solana for the EU, and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov for Russia. Further refined last December, the roadmap calls for a first phase, to last through May this year, in which Palestinians unconditionally cease all violence and institute political reforms, appoint a prime minister, draft a constitution, and hold elections, while Israel withdraws from areas occupied since the beginning of the intifada in September 2000, dismantles settlements built since March 2001 (since Ariel Sharon took office), and freezes all other settlement activity. Needless to say, even if the deadline for this phase were not now a mere three weeks away, there would be little hope of accomplishing these substantial goals in the near future.

In the second phase, from June through December 2003, the Quartet is to call an international conference to launch a negotiating process leading to establishment of an “independent Palestinian state with provisional borders and attributes of sovereignty.” The third and final phase, involving a second international conference, envisions an end to Israel’s occupation and establishment of an “independent, democratic and viable Palestine” at some undefined point in 2005. The final peace agreement will resolve all outstanding final issues, including borders, settlements, the status of Jerusalem, and the disposition of refugees. The plan also calls for “Arab state acceptance of full, normal relations with Israel” at the end of the negotiating process but lays out no specifics.

Although the roadmap is the joint product of the Quartet, the United States essentially controls its content and timing and will be the final arbiter, in cooperation with a very reluctant Israel, of its implementation. This would seem to be the kiss of death. Israel has made it known that it has one hundred proposed changes to the roadmap and is already interpreting the plan according to its own lights, particularly on whether it calls for parallel or sequential implementation of its demands on each side. Although the plan clearly states that in each phase “the parties are expected to perform their obligations in parallel, unless otherwise indicated,” it later conditions Israeli action on prior Palestinian action, calling on Israel to withdraw from areas occupied since September 2000 but only “progressively” and only “as comprehensive [Palestinian] security performance moves forward.” Colin Powell has offered the unhelpful view that the roadmap’s steps “will be parallel, but they will not exactly be in synchronization with one another.”

A Palestinian suicide bomber has already given Israel an excuse for delay by launching a terrorist attack on the day the new Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, was installed. Sharon then guaranteed further Palestinian terrorism, and thus the failure of “comprehensive security performance” by Abbas, when Israel launched attacks in Gaza the very day after the roadmap’s release. This particular attack killed 13 Palestinians, mostly civilians and including a two-year-old, a couple of young teenagers, a mentally retarded man, a woman, and a 75-year-old man.

This tactic is standard operating procedure for Sharon. By well-timed assassination operations and supposedly “retaliatory” attacks and incursions in Palestinian areas, he’s managed to upset every pending peace move in the last two-plus years. He upset at least two mediation missions by special envoy Anthony Zinni in 2001 and 2002 with assassination operations that directly provoked suicide bombings; preempted the Saudi/Arab League peace initiative in March 2002 with a major incursion into Palestinian refugee camps that also led to a suicide bombing; overturned a pending cease-fire agreement involving Hamas by bombing a Gaza apartment building and killing 14 sleeping civilians, half of them children, in July 2002; and undermined every attempt by Yasir Arafat to impose a cease-fire by launching multiple incursions into Palestinian areas while Palestinians were maintaining quiet. Most observers except those in the Bush administration have accurately labeled these actions as the provocations that they are, but Bush and his team persist in viewing Sharon as a “man of peace” and will undoubtedly continue to do so when he successfully provokes enough terrorism to derail the roadmap.

The U.S. did not accede to Sharon’s demand for changes in the plan before releasing it, but Bush has made it clear that both sides can negotiate over the plan’s provisions, a certain ticket to endless crippling delays. Bush himself and the administration are clearly unenthusiastic about the plan and apparently only released it at all, after a six-month delay, in order to accommodate Tony Blair’s need to show his domestic opponents some sign of movement toward peace in the Middle East after his unpopular participation in Bush’s war in Iraq.

Colin Powell is evidently the roadmap’s only champion inside the administration, which probably further dooms it. Most Bush policymakers and senior advisers do not even acknowledge that the territories under discussion are “occupied territories” and actively oppose any requirement for Israeli withdrawal. Donald Rumsfeld famously referred to the territories as “so-called occupied territories” last year; Richard Cheney has not put himself on record so explicitly but, as a long-time board member of such stridently pro-Israeli right-wing organizations as JINSA, clearly is not a fan of the concept of Israeli territorial compromise; other administration heavyweights such as Douglas Feith and Richard Perle at the Defense Department or on its periphery and Elliott Abrams on the National Security Council staff have long openly advertised their belief that Israel owns the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem by biblical right and must always retain control. No roadmap to peace there.

Having caved in so easily in the internecine battle over the Iraq war, Powell would seem to be totally incapable of withstanding, and perhaps not even willing to put up a fight against, the internal pressures against the roadmap.

The pressures on Bush and company from outside the administration are even more intense. Israel is launching a heavy lobbying effort against the roadmap, at least as it stands, in conjunction with AIPAC, other major Jewish organizations, and the large Christian fundamentalist community. Israel’s tourism minister, one of several strong advocates of “transfer” (i.e., expulsion of Palestinians) in Sharon’s cabinet, is now in the U.S. for the specific purpose of generating an anti-roadmap campaign outside the administration. Much of the groundwork has already been laid for him: 88 senators and 316 congressmen have already sent letters to Bush. Instigated by AIPAC, such letters express serious reservations about the roadmap because of the pressure it puts on Israel, and several Christian fundamentalist leaders have spoken out stridently against the roadmap. Many among the Christian right, including both evangelical preachers and congressmen and other politicians, have been quite clear about their support for Israel’s retention of the territories and for Palestinian expulsion.

On the other side, a group of 100 American rabbis and a separate group of 14 major Jewish philanthropists have also sent letters to Bush supporting the roadmap and urging that he implement it immediately. But these are voices in the wilderness in comparison with the forces arrayed against the plan. Nor are the other Quartet members likely to be strong enough to press the U.S. to follow through. The bottom line is that Bush will be extremely reluctant to confront Sharon, whom he apparently likes and with whom he feels great rapport. And, perhaps most significant, even were he inclined to press ahead with a genuine peace effort, he would also be extremely reluctant, as the next election looms , to confront the pro-Israel/Christian fundamentalist lobby.

Even without the virtually insurmountable opposition the roadmap faces, it is a badly flawed document. On paper the roadmap says many of the right things It recognizes that there is an occupation and calls for an end to it. It demands an Israeli settlement freeze. It appears to demand simultaneity in implementation by both sides, basing a future peace agreement on UN Security Resolution 242 and the principle of land for peace. It recognizes the need for viability for a Palestinian state.

Nonetheless, overall it’s a non-starter.

The long time frame and the phased approach are major shortcomings. Palestinians are rightly fearful of any phased approach because Oslo gave them the clear message that, without strong U.S. pressure, Israel will turn any interim (and therefore from the Palestinian standpoint unsatisfactory) phase into a permanent arrangement. This is a particular danger with phase two of the roadmap, which calls for an “independent Palestinian state with provisional borders and attributes of sovereignty.” Apart from the obvious fact that, if borders are provisional, there can be no true state, no independence, and no sovereignty or even attributes thereof, the real danger here is that having accomplished what Israel, the U.S., and the rest of the world will surely call “independent statehood,” no matter what the reality, the powerless Palestinians will have no possible way to exert pressure to move on to the next stage.

A peace agreement and Palestinian statehood scheduled no sooner than 2005, in a situation in which the plan at its inception is already six months behind? This leaden pace itself guarantees a death warrant for the plan.. Unless Israeli settlement-building, road-building, and confiscation of Palestinian land are stopped now, there will be nowhere to put either a provisional state this year or a real state two years hence. Israeli land seizures are proceeding at such a relentless pace and the West Bank is being paved over with huge settlement blocs and limited access highways to such an extent that the West Bank is likely to be totally absorbed into Israel before the roadmap can ever find a route to genuine peace.

Philip Wilcox, a former consul in Jerusalem and now head of the Washington-based Foundation for Middle East Peace, recently observed that it is impossible to get a proper idea of the scale of the settlements project and the speed with which it is going forward without being there to see what is happening. Few Americans, including policymakers, even read texts and see maps; fewer still, again including policymakers, have ever seen the situation on the ground.

The lack of enforcement provisions, and the likelihood that no U.S. government will ever exert enough pressure on Israel to implement the steps it must take to move the process along, are also severe impediments. Despite the call for parallelism, the roadmap is vague enough on timing and unspecific enough on sequencing that in practice all the burden is placed on the Palestinians. Palestinians have already been required to reform their administration, and Israel is explicitly demanding Palestinian compliance on stopping all violence before it takes any steps. The Bush administration will almost certainly not object to this, and will no doubt also wink at the kind of provocations that Israel launched last week.

According to the Israeli commentator Akiva Eldar, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer, gave a talk in Israel last year about the roadmap and, in a near-criticism of Bush and the administration, quoted one of Yogi Berra’s aphorisms: “You’ve got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.” Yogi had it right; the roadmap seems clearly headed for a massive pile-up on the superhighway of the U.S.-Israeli relationship. All available evidence indicates that the Bush administration will accept that pile-up rather than damage the relationship.

KATHLEEN CHRISTISON also worked in the CIA, retiring in 1979. Since then she has been mainly preoccupied by the issue of Palestine. She is the author of Perceptions of Palestine and The Wound of Dispossession.

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