The new peace initiative called the “Road Map” has a few advantages. In contrast to the Oslo Accords and a variety of other proposals, it affirms that Israel must put an “end to the occupation” as well as ensure the creation of a “viable Palestinian State.”
As opposed to “Tenet” and “Mitchell,” the two previous initiatives sponsored solely by the United States, the Road Map was devised and introduced by the Quartet; namely, the United Nations, European Union, Russia, and U.S. Insofar as the Quartet rather than just the U.S. will be the arbiter of this proposal, it will have a more balanced and fairer adjudicator.
The Road Map also states that a peaceful solution must be informed by the principle of land for peace as well as UN resolutions 242, 338,1397, and the Saudi proposal, documents that underscore some central issues not mentioned in the current initiative. Finally, it is a performance-based rather than declaratory document, and each side must carry out its obligations concurrently within very specific and short timeframes. So while the Palestinian Authority democratizes its institutions and tries to quell attacks on Israelis, the Israeli military must withdraw to the positions it held prior to September 2000.
Despite improvements over previous initiatives, the Road Map contains at least one essential flaw that can easily undermine the successful realization of a just peace.
The proposal is based on a three-phase solution. The first two phases have concrete guidelines that specify each side’s obligations and determine the dates of implementation. The four most difficult issues are, however, left to the final phase. Within a year following the beginning of this phase, the two parties are supposed to resolve the differences that have been at the heart of the conflict for over 36 years: 1) the final borders between the two states; 2) the status of Jerusalem; 3) the dismantlement of the Jewish settlements; and 4) the right of return of Palestinian refugees.
The Road Map itself says nothing about how these four problems are to be resolved. Yet, the power differential between the two sides is such that the Palestinians will have to depend on the good intentions of the Israelis. And since Prime Minister Sharon does not seem to have good intentions, this proposal, like the ones before it, is unlikely to beget a lasting peace.
The media has, nonetheless, expressed enthusiasm about Sharon, claiming that he is no longer the warmonger he used to be, but rather a man of peace. To demonstrate their point, they emphasize the military’s current efforts to dismantle Jewish outposts and cite Sharon’s statement that “Israel must end the occupation of 3.5 million Palestinians.” The desire to believe in a better future is so great that some liberal Israelis have even begun to trust the “new Sharon.”
Israel’s premier, however, is a chameleon. The military did indeed dismantle a few outposts in a series of operations well coordinated with the media. But the international press has conveniently forgotten that since entering office Sharon has allowed the settlers to build over 60 outposts. Along the same lines, he is probably sincere in his hope that Israel will end the occupation of 3.5 million Palestinians; however, he is unwilling to end the occupation of Palestine. People yes, land no.
The crucial point is that while Sharon is feigning to be a peacenik, he is creating facts on the ground that will undermine any future agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. The major issue is not so much the ongoing military operations, but rather the separation wall or “security fence,” a complex series of barriers, trenches, roads, and fences.
A map published in the Israeli paper Yedioth Ahronoth reveals that the so-called security fence, whose initial objective was to protect Israelis from the infiltration of suicide bombers, is not being erected on the 1967 borders. Rhetoric aside, the wall is being built in order to expropriate land. If Sharon succeeds, no less than fifty percent of the West Bank will be annexed to Israel!
Additionally, the area allocated for the Palestinian state-to-be will be divided into three enclaves, not including the Gaza Strip, which will be walled in on all sides. The Palestinian city Kalkilya, home of 40,000 people, is already a ghetto. Moreover, eighty percent of the water aquifers will be under Israeli control, making the enclaves dependent on Israel.
One cannot understand Sharon’s attitude towards the Road Map without examining the political objectives of the separation wall. A Palestinian friend put it well when he claimed that the wall is, in a sense, like the Hamas. “The two,” he said, “are against the Road Map.”
NEVE GORDON teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University, Israel. He is one of the writers featured in The Other Israel: Voices of Dissent and Refusal and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.