Next, an Israeli-Palestinian
April 11, 2003
Saddam Hussein's reign of terror is history. But for the United States,
the enormous postwar tasks of rebuilding Iraq, helping it develop a democratic
government--and mending some frayed relations with the Arab world and
Europe--still lie ahead. That said, aggressively reviving the peace negotiations
between Israel and the Palestinians also has to rank at, or very near,
the top of the American priority list.
Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians will not flourish spontaneously.
Like the ouster of Hussein and his thugs, this will require strong and
steady American leadership--and also pressure, in cooperation with our
allies and international organizations.
Last summer, President
Bush promised to unveil a "road map" to negotiations and an eventual peace
between Israel and the Palestinians. Draft versions of that road map look
more like broad series of requirements or benchmarks for both sides--most
of them revolving around the cessation of violence--as a prelude to the
creation of a viable Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel by 2005.
Even before the official unveiling of the road map, Israeli Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon all but shredded it, voicing over 100 objections to it--more
recently condensed to about 15--and threatening to abandon the process
President Yasser Arafat, who earlier this year seemed ready to relinquish
some of his power to a prime minister who would begin the cleanup of the
corrupt Palestinian Authority, also one of the requisites in the road
map, appeared to be having second thoughts.
Although the road map was drafted by the so-called Quartet--the U.S.,
the European Union, the United Nations and Russia--the U.S. is the main
player. Making this succeed will necessitate steady American diplomacy
and arm-twisting of both the Israelis and the Palestinians.
The road map demands an end to both Palestinian terrorist attacks and
Israeli retaliation in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. A logical start:
That bloody back-and-forth has left almost 3,000 people dead over the
past two years and ruined the Israeli and Palestinian economies.
Israel has--justifiably--made an end to terrorism by Palestinian extremists
a non-negotiable demand. One does not negotiate with suicide bombers.
Sharon's strong showing in January's election demonstrates Israeli voters
Newly elected Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has exhorted Palestinians
to give up the terror campaign, also a wise move, though he is still trying
to solidify his political base and push back efforts by Arafat and his
cronies to meddle. Controlling terrorists is Abbas' most urgent and difficult
challenge. But he also needs to offer something to his constituents, other
than unilateral concessions, while Israeli housing demolitions, annexation
and military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza continue.
Some even argue that iron-fist tactics by the Israeli government further
radicalize the Palestinian public by playing into the hands of terrorist
groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and making the job of Palestinian
moderates and centrists like Abbas all the more difficult.
The Palestinian state it seeks to create is never clearly defined. But
as drafted, the plan's proposed gradual, confidence-building steps leading
to talks about the creation of such a state are an effective start to
the negotiation process.
In Phase I, Palestinian leaders issue an unequivocal statement supporting
Israel's right to exist, and an end to terrorist violence. Israel simultaneously
vows to stop housing demolition, confiscation of Palestinian property
and similar actions on the West Bank.
Most critical, Israel must agree to cease construction of settlements
in the West Bank and to immediately dismantle settlement outposts erected
since March 2001. Even during the Oslo peace process of the 1990s, settlements
in the West Bank continued apace, often on confiscated Palestinian land.
Earlier this month, Jewish families began moving into an Israeli settlement
built in Arab East Jerusalem, despite expressions of concern by the U.S.--hardly
an auspicious sign of the Sharon government's intentions regarding the
Both Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza
Rice recently underlined President Bush's support for the road map and
called for an end to settlement activity in the occupied territories.
Rice also has said the road map is a final proposal not a trial balloon.
The U.S. already had delayed release of the road map until after the Jan.
28 Israeli elections, and later until after the formation of a Palestinian
cabinet under Abbas.
Rice is correct: It's time to get to a final version. There ought not
be any further delays, revisions of the road map--or circular negotiations
over future negotiations.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a humanitarian tragedy. It is also
a serious political challenge for the U.S.: It poisons relations with
most nations in the region, and troubles European allies, most notably
Britain. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been most vocal about getting
the peace process rolling again. On Wednesday, the foreign ministers of
Britain and France jointly underlined the urgency of restarting peace
talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
A free, democratic Iraq would be a milestone in the political development
of the Middle East. But lasting peace and stability in the region won't
materialize until the bloodletting between Israel and the Palestinians
Copyright © 2003, Chicago Tribune