March 14 — In announcing today that he was prepared to move ahead
with a "road map" to peace and a Palestinian state, President Bush
appeared to diverge sharply from the allies who helped him draft
the map over what, precisely, it represents.
Mr. Bush pleased
Israelis and dismayed Palestinians by describing the draft proposal
as open to amendment, saying, "We will expect and welcome contributions
from Israel and the Palestinians to this document that will advance
The three other
members of the diplomatic quartet that drew up the plan — the United
Nations, the European Union and Russia — regard it as fixed, demanding
immediate concessions from both sides, according to diplomats involved
in the process. Israel has criticized it as potentially threatening
to its security and has sought many changes.
Even as he
made his announcement, Mr. Bush altered the document. He said he
would present it as soon as the Palestinians confirmed a prime minister
with "real authority."
intention may be to box in Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader,
and force him to install a powerful prime minister. But according
to the plan, which the quartet agreed on in December, the prime
minister is supposed to be appointed as part of the first phase,
which also demands difficult steps from Israel.
action on the plan for months, Mr. Bush has chosen to act at a moment
of some diplomatic possibility and great American leverage here.
Mr. Arafat has begun to move on a prime minister, while Ariel Sharon
of Israel has said the only way out of Israel's deep recession is
an end to the conflict. Israeli officials also are seeking a multibillion-dollar
emergency aid package from Washington.
wording was far less precise than that of the plan itself. He may
be trying to remain ambiguous enough to create room to maneuver
for Mr. Sharon, whose rightist government rejects key aspects of
the plan. If so, that is a gamble. Over the last two years, other
plans to restart talks have collapsed in negotiations over exactly
what the wording of the documents meant.
remarks caught at least some of the administration's diplomatic
allies off guard and left them wondering how conflicting Israeli
and Palestinian changes might be reconciled.
"It's not meant
to be a negotiated document," one Western diplomat said. He said
other members of the quartet would construct their own interpretation
of Mr. Bush's comments. "We will understand President Bush to mean,
when he says `contributions,' `additional details to be added,'
" rather than changes to the existing plan, this diplomat said.
officials interpreted Mr. Bush's remarks more broadly. Prime Minister
Sharon has said he accepts the plan, provided that it strictly fulfills
the terms of a speech delivered by President Bush last June 24.
Compared with the plan, that June speech was interpreted by both
sides as placing more burdens on the Palestinians in the short term.
said they heard nothing tonight to conflict with that approach.
Gideon Meir, deputy director general of the Foreign Ministry, said
any plan that would "reflect precisely the presidential vision will
be an important tool to implement the speech" of June 24.
He said a Palestinian
prime minister who was "totally disconnected from Arafat" and who
would be "acting decisively against terror and incitement" and rebuilding
the governing Palestinian Authority would be a partner who "together
with Israel will give its response to the road map."
the Palestinians' chief negotiator, was clearly alarmed, saying,
"If we're going to introduce the road map for discussions, it means
at the end of the discussions there will be no road map."
officials have said that like the Israelis, they dispute aspects
of the plan but accept it as a whole in the belief that it is to
be imposed on both sides.
Tony Blair of Britain has pushed for President Bush to announce
the plan, but even Mr. Blair seemed to have a different idea than
his ally of what the plan stands for. He did not emphasize possible
changes, but instead spoke of "specific steps that we are committed
to." He said Israel was expected to institute "a freeze on all settlement
activity" as part of the first phase.
Mr. Bush offered
a more elastic formula on settlements. "As progress is made toward
peace, settlement activity in the occupied territories must end,"
an architect of the settlement movement, has built a governing coalition
that includes two parties closely identified with settlers, as is
his own faction, Likud. He would almost surely have to form a new
government with leftist factions to sustain a major move to restrain
At issue in
the dispute over the plan is a fundamental divide, a seemingly arcane
difference over process. It is referred to here as a debate between
"sequentialism" and "parallelism" — over whether one side must make
concessions before the other side acts.
has demanded that the Palestinians first meet a series of conditions,
including halting all violence and dismantling all terrorist groups,
before a return to negotiations. President Bush has largely supported
But the plan
outlines a parallel process of simultaneous concessions. After hearing
Mr. Bush today, a Western diplomat said, "He's using the vocabulary