The 'road map' that no one follows

By H.D.S. Greenway, 9/26/2003

PRESIDENT BUSH'S "road map" for a Middle East peace is all but dead, and the president has joined hands with Israel's Ariel Sharon to put the entire blame on Yasser Arafat. There is no doubt that Arafat did undermine the efforts of Israel and the United States to form a parallel Palestinian Authority outside of Arafat's control, but then again, he was elected to lead the Palestinians and, as the Financial Times editorialized, "Countries can make enemies, but they can never pick their enemy's leader."

The Palestinians themselves were getting fed up with Arafat, but the US and Israeli efforts to effect a regime change upon the Palestinians have put a deeply flawed Arafat back on center stage. The American veto of a UN resolution against Israel's decision to either kill or exile Arafat will be seen in Israel and the Arab world as tacit permission to carry out the threat, despite US protestations to the contrary.

The road map called for the Palestinian Authority to crack down on Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror, which the Palestinian Authority has not done. The road map also called for Israel to freeze settlement activity and begin withdrawing troops from occupied territories, which Israel has not done. Secretary of State Colin Powell understands that both these processes have to begin simultaneously, but Bush has undercut Powell so often that Israelis are openly contemptuous of the State Department and feel free to go around Powell.

Sharon's vision of a Palestinian state is an entity that would remain under Israel's de facto control on perhaps 42 percent of the occupied territories with Jewish settlements still in place, dominating every hilltop and water resource. Palestinians could elect leaders, but only tame leaders acceptable to Israel, if the treatment of Arafat provides an example. It is similar to what apartheid South Africa had in mind for little black republics within its borders. There might have been some logic for keeping strategic depth when Israel faced powerful and hostile Arab armies. But today no armies threaten Israel from outside; only the agony and revenge of an occupied people inside.

Sharon's new security wall runs not along the 1967 border but deep into Palestinian territory, and with each new block of cement Palestinians see more of their land being taken. As the moderate Palestinian academic, Sari Nusseibeh, has said, the wall will create pockets of Palestinians "in cages all along the way so that movement will only be allowed from one cage to another, exactly like a zoo." Unfortunately, that is what all the occupied territories are to look like on Sharon's road map.

Thus it is Sharon's goal to have the Bush road map die, to be replaced by his own, and to have the blame put on the Palestinians. So far he has outmaneuvered Bush at every turn, but he has not made Israel any safer.

As for Arafat, he has said that Sharon has not conceded anything that would justify the civil war that would ensue were he to try to crack down on militants who grow more popular every day as Israel pursues its extrajudicial assassinations. In fact, Arafat has little room for maneuver. As Geoffrey Aronson of the Foundation for Middle East Peace has written, the Palestinian Authority has been reduced to a "virtual authority, without effective control over territory and under constant assault by Israel."

Indeed, Sharon's relentless destruction of the Palestinian Authority's institutions seems on the surface counterproductive if he wants the authority to crack down on militants. But under Sharon's road map it is the symbols and infrastructure of Palestinian nationhood that are the primary target. "But as long as Arafat breathes he remains an obstacle to Israel's desire to end the possibility of sovereign Palstinian rule," according to Aronson.

Israel's senior statesman, Shimon Peres, pointed out recently that Arafat has never renounced the Oslo land-for-peace accords. Sharon, however, never accepted them in the first place. Israel insists on a crackdown on militants first. The Palestinians want some steps such as troop withdrawals and freezes on settlements first, so the vicious circle goes on, with the Bush administration seemingly walking away from the whole mess.

The mood in Israel is not conciliatory and is focused against Arafat. But in the long run, the problem for Israel is its occupation of the Palestinians, not Arafat, and exiling or killing him will not alter that fact.

With an election next year, Bush is unlikely to take on the pro-Israel lobby and the Christian fundamentalists to be even-handed. Bush's political adviser, Karl Rove, has indicated that the GOP has a historic chance to win Jewish money and support away from the Democratic Party. Add to that the men on the Bush team who had previously advised Israel's Likud Party to make a "complete break" with Oslo and force Arabs to accept Israeli domination over the occupied territories and you have a built-in formula for failure.

Bush's plan for a Middle East peace, like his campaign for Iraq, is an initiative begun boldly but put in harm's way because of his administration's ideological zealots, an absence of proper planning, and a lack of follow through -- a dangerously recurring pattern.

© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.