Road map detour /
Bad timing puts Mideast peace plan on hold
The U.S. role
in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the single most important
long-term, contentious issue in America's relations with the Muslim
world. The poignancy of the problem was brought close to home again
Sunday when a young American woman, Rachel Corrie, was killed by
an Israeli bulldozer while trying to prevent destruction of a Palestinian
home in Gaza.
The next step
in marking out a path to a viable long-term resolution of the issues
in that conflict was the presentation to the concerned parties of
a "road map" -- a peace plan carefully devised by the Quartet, comprising
the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia.
occurred on Friday. At the same time, it is clear that virtually
nothing can be done about the Israeli-Palestinian problem while
the outcome of the Iraq war hangs unsettled over the head of the
world. In that sense, the Bush administration's release of the road
map may have been unhelpful in terms of improving long-term prospects
month, administration officials said the road map was being put
on hold until the issue of war with Iraq was resolved. Although
the shelving of the peace plan was attributed at the time in part
to a desire to spite the Europeans, who attach great importance
to it, there was also logic in putting the plan on hold in the face
of a major war in the Middle East.
It would be
impossible, for example, for the United States to ask Israel to
carry out its end of the deal with Israel itself in the process
of battening down the hatches in anticipation of possible Iraqi
missile attacks. The United States instead will be seeking to limit
an Israeli response to such attacks if they occur, as they did during
the 1991 Gulf war.
has on the table a request to the United States for $12 billion
in new military aid, in addition to its annual $3 billion, as compensation
for losses it may incur and additional defense measures it will
deploy during a war with Iraq.
are in some disarray as well. A prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, has
been named, meeting to some degree the goal of the removal from
the political scene of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.
At the same time, the wily Mr. Arafat is still around, and the delineation
of authority between him and the new prime minister is still under
dispute among the Palestinians.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair felt that a road-map peace plan
on the table would help his own credibility at home in defending
his support of the U.S. position on an Iraq war. President Bush
gave him that card to play on Friday.
The need for
the road map is clear. It puts forward useful steps toward a resolution
of the Israeli-Palestinian problem. Mr. Bush's statement regarding
it was constructive in its commitment to a "two-state" resolution
of the problem.
At the same
time, the timing of the release of the road map meant that its prospects
for implementation have been made hostage to the outcome of war
with Iraq. They were that in any case, but the long-awaited road
map to peace in the Middle East should not have been put forward
as a footnote to the march to war with Iraq.
of the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians remains
the key to long-term Middle East peace and stability, for
all parties involved, including the United States, during and after
an Iraq war. The presentation of the road map constitutes progress
in that regard; the choice of timing, the eve of a war in the region,
was not helpful.
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