last thing Israel should be doing at this moment of hopeful fluidity
in the Middle East is slowing down a new American-backed peace plan.
Yet that is what Prime Minister Ariel Sharon seems to have in mind
by letting it be known that he will not be ready to move ahead on
the newly published "road map" of mutual concessions when Secretary
of State Colin Powell calls on him this weekend.
Sharon wants to wait nearly another month, until he meets with President
Bush in the White House, and then press for changes in the proposal,
whose sponsors also include the European Union, Russia and the United
Mr. Powell's mission to be easy. But to be told in advance that
he is wasting his time does neither side any good. Mr. Powell can
address Israeli concerns. This is not the first time Mr. Sharon
has tried to undercut Mr. Powell's authority. He is only making
it harder for Washington to win wholehearted Arab commitments to
the peace plan's crucial first steps. On this trip, Mr. Powell will
also meet with the new Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas,
and the leaders of Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
plans lend credence to Palestinian charges that Israel wants to
stall movement on the road map until the 2004 United States presidential
campaign, hoping that domestic American political considerations
will then preclude further pressure from Washington to take difficult
steps for peace.
The road map
proposal takes a three-stage approach to Palestinian statehood and
a permanent peace agreement. It begins with steps to re-establish
some confidence between the two sides, by, for example, requiring
the Palestinian Authority to move effectively against terror and
directing Israel to ease restrictions on Palestinian movements and
dismantle settlement outposts set up in the past two years.
Only then does
it move on to historically irreversible steps, like recognizing
Palestinian statehood and insisting on the final resolution of all
outstanding claims, including the Palestinian refugee issue. The
essence of the plan is its carefully designed sequencing arrangement.
Mr. Sharon wants to unravel this sequencing by insisting that the
Palestinians renounce all refugee claims before Israel even agrees
to accept provisional Palestinian statehood.
plan is not supposed to be open to far-reaching amendments, Israelis
and Palestinians should be encouraged to discuss their concerns
freely. Mr. Sharon should not pass up the opportunity to do so with
America's secretary of state.