A Firm 'Road Map'
By M.J. Rosenberg
M.J. Rosenberg is director of policy analysis for Israel Policy
Forum and a longtime Capitol Hill staffer.
April 6, 2003
WASHINGTON -- President Bush's promise that a "road map" to Middle
East peace will soon be presented to Israel and the Palestinians has
provoked considerable skepticism worldwide. But that's no surprise
given the president's record.
Since coming to office in January 2001, the Bush administration has
proclaimed its commitment to several Middle East initiatives. First,
in April 2001, came the so-called Mitchell plan, proposed by a fact-finding
commission headed by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell (D-Maine), that
called for an end to violence followed by political negotiations.
Then, a couple of months later, came the Tenet "work plan," devised
by CIA Director George J. Tenet to reaffirm and kick-start the Mitchell
plan. Finally, there was special envoy Gen. Anthony Zinni's mission
to the region, which commenced in November 2001 with the promise that
he would stay "as long as it takes" to get the process going. But
when the going got rough following last spring's Passover terror attack,
the administration simply pulled him out. He did not return.
The failures of these initiatives don't reflect a lack of determination
or sincerity on the parts of Mitchell, Tenet, Zinni or any of the
State Department officials who have set out to end the violence. They
have failed because Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was first unwilling
and then incapable of stopping the suicide bombing that was terrorizing
Israel. When pauses in the terror came, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon dismissed them as insignificant and demanded longer periods
of "quiet" before he would enter into any kind of talks. At the same
time, violent opponents of negotiations on the Palestinian side --
Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Tanzim militia, which is linked to Arafat's
Fatah organization -- essentially achieved veto power over any progress
by launching attacks they knew would provoke Israeli reprisals and
cause Sharon to invoke his demand for additional quiet before negotiations.
It was a strange kind of dance, with Arafat and Sharon -- and two
suffering peoples -- being led into the deadliest of dead ends. The
U.S. mediators never really had a chance.
Not all the blame, however, lies with the local players. President
Bush came to office a few months after the Al Aqsa intifada began
and, almost immediately, sent out the word that his administration
had no intention of following President Clinton's example of fully
engaging in resolving the conflict. Administration officials said
they would pursue a "regional" approach and then, pointedly, moved
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a back burner. It has remained
there since, except for the occasional statement following some atrocity.
So, is there any reason to believe that the administration is serious
this time about resolving the Israeli- Palestinian conflict? Yes.
The terrain has changed in fundamental ways in recent weeks. But the
biggest difference this time is in the vehicle. The authors of the
road map -- representatives of the U.S., the European Union, Russia
and the United Nations -- have learned from those earlier failed initiatives,
and they've made some significant improvements.
For starters, the road map avoids calling for quid pro quo actions
by the two parties in favor of parallel moves that happen concurrently.
Palestinians must end anti-Israel violence, while at the same time
Israelis must begin pulling back from areas reoccupied during the
intifada. Instead of waiting for Sharon to deem Palestinian efforts
to combat terror sufficient for a reciprocal measure, the sponsors
of the road map assume that role for themselves (and specifically
for the United States). Neither side can refuse to meet its obligations
by claiming that the other has not acted.
The United States has agreed to determine compliance. According to
the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the Central Intelligence Agency has
already set up a special department to "coordinate supervision and
monitoring of the implementation of the road map, and track both sides'
implementation of their responsibilities."
The U.S. role should satisfy Israel, which can trust the Bush administration
not to permit the Palestinians to skirt their responsibilities. The
Palestinians, with their performance no longer assessed solely by
Sharon, will welcome the CIA, which they consider to have been a fair
arbiter during the period of the Oslo accords. Israelis too should
welcome CIA involvement: Terrorism inside Israel claimed only seven
lives during the three years that the CIA monitored Israeli-Palestinian
security cooperation before the current intifada began in the fall
of 2000. In the 2 1/2 years since the CIA role ended, more than 750
Israelis have been killed by terrorists.
Reasons for optimism about the road map's prospects, however, go well
beyond the document itself. Perhaps most significant is the installation
of the new Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, known also by
his nom de guerre Abu Maazen, who is scheduled to present his Cabinet
this month. The advent of Abbas may be the beginning of the end for
Arafat, who would have preferred a different prime minister and fought
to keep power in his own hands. The Palestinian legislature balked,
overruled Arafat and gave the new prime minister broad authority for
the day-to-day running of the Palestinian Authority.
The Bush administration welcomed Abbas' election, viewing it as an
affirmation of the president's call for Palestinian reform as a condition
for active U.S. diplomacy. The Israeli government also reacted positively,
with the new foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, telling the Knesset
that Abbas' election was a "positive step." Shalom said he was ready
to start working with him. Sharon too had good things to say about
Abbas after having him visit his ranch earlier this year. While some
American Jewish leaders have been skeptical, citing Abbas' authorship
in 1983 of a strongly anti-Zionist tract -- which contains elements
of Holocaust revisionism -- Israelis who know him are more forgiving,
noting that in the Israeli- Palestinian context, 1983 is ancient history.
They also note that Abbas has been a consistent supporter of peace
with Israel and a vocal opponent of Palestinian violence.
Another reason to hope is timing. With the Israeli economy in its
worst shape in history, the Sharon government needs a rejuvenated
peace process (and, even more, the benefits of peace) to save it.
Sharon said recently that "without a diplomatic solution, our economy
Sharon might also be mindful of what happened to Yitzhak Shamir, who
was prime minister during the 1991 Gulf War. President George H.W.
Bush followed up the U.S. victory by convening an Arab-Israeli peace
conference in Madrid. Under U.S. pressure, Israelis and Palestinians,
for the first time, began serious negotiations on the issues dividing
them. Suddenly, Israelis felt that they had a partner on the Palestinian
side. When hard-liner Shamir did not embrace the peace process, he
was dispatched in early elections and replaced by the peacemaker Yitzhak
Rabin. A similar fate could befall Sharon if Israelis come to view
Abbas as a legitimate negotiating partner and Sharon does not respond.
Even his alliances with far-right parties won't hamper Sharon, should
he choose to negotiate peace. Though he might well alienate some of
the more reactionary elements of his coalition government, he knows
that the opposition Labor Party will back his peace moves, and that
its support will more than compensate for any losses on the extreme
right. He also knows that no prime minister can afford a confrontation
with an American president, especially one considered as pro-Israel
as Bush. If Bush pushes Sharon to get with the program, he will.
And Bush is clearly serious. Just last week, he dispatched Secretary
of State Colin L. Powell and national security advisor Condoleezza
Rice to the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs
Committee to tell the powerful pro-Israel lobby's 3,000 assembled
members that Bush was standing behind the road map and that "no amendments"
would be entertained. This is not what AIPAC wanted to hear. It already
was floating legislation on Capitol Hill to turn the road map into
a set of demands on Palestinians with no reciprocal requirements on
Israel. Nevertheless, the committee had no choice but to greet the
administration's words with restrained applause and only a few hisses.
It is unlikely that AIPAC will mount a major anti-Bush effort while
American troops are in Iraq, engaged in a war (and, presumably, a
postwar occupation) Israelis believe will enhance their security.
But there are already indications the group will do all it can --
on Capitol Hill and elsewhere -- to undermine the plan even as it
Bush will present the plan, unchanged by Sharon or anyone else, and
then Israelis and Palestinians can, in his words, "discuss the road
map with one another." He has no intention of letting Israelis, Palestinians
or Israel's hard-line supporters in the United States nickel-and-dime
his plan to death.
Will the road map succeed where other efforts have failed? Quite possibly.
But only if Bush sticks to his guns. So far, so good.
2003 Los Angeles Times