Israel says yes (maybe) / Cabinet conditionally
ratifies a 'road map' for peace
Nothing is simple
in Middle Eastern diplomacy, so it isn't surprising that the Israeli
Cabinet's acceptance of an international "road map" to peace with
the Palestinians was hedged with conditions.
is good reason to accentuate the positive in Sunday's Cabinet vote:
An Israeli government headed by the hard-line Ariel Sharon has signed
on to the concept of a Palestinian state and has endorsed, however
conditionally, a "map" whose signposts include the dismantling of
recent Jewish settlements on the West Bank and restrictions on the
growth of older ones.
sound bite came from Prime Minister Sharon: "The moment has arrived
to divide this tract of land between us and the Palestinians."
moment could have arrived a quarter of a century ago when Israel
signed the Camp David accords with Egypt. Those accords held out
the promise not only of peace between Israel and Egypt but also
a resolution of the Palestinian problem.
But the opportunity
was squandered by all sides -- Arab nations that rejected compromise,
the Palestine Liberation Organization which saw Camp David as a
sellout and successive Israeli governments that allowed the proliferation
of Jewish settlements on territory that would be part of any Palestinian
A decade ago,
it seemed that both Israelis and Palestinians had decided to make
up for lost opportunities. The Oslo peace negotiations, followed
by the dramatic signing in September 1993 of an Israeli-PLO agreement
on the White House lawn, launched a new round of negotiations and
the laying of the groundwork for a Palestinian state.
came close to producing an agreement during the Clinton administration,
but mutual trust was lacking. Then there was Ariel Sharon's Sept.
28, 2000, visit to Jerusalem's Temple Mount, a violent reaction
from Palestinians, and a new nightmare of violence in which suicide
bombers terrorized innocent Israelis and Israel retaliated against
Palestinian political institutions.
The "road map"
proposed by the so-called Quartet -- the United States, Russia,
the United Nations and the European Union -- is an attempt to put
the peace process back on track. Its details and timetables are
less important than its vision of a two-state solution in which
Israel and a Palestinian state would leave peacefully side by side
and in which Jewish and Arab interests in Jerusalem would be accommodated.
There is nothing
new about this vision. What makes the road map important is the
prestige of its sponsors, especially the United States, Israel's
chief protector and the country that just toppled the regime of
its enemy Saddam Hussein.
The road map
imposes conditions on the Palestinians as well, including the end
of Palestinian incitement against Israel. Israelis who would have
scoffed at those provisions when Yasser Arafat was synonymous with
the Palestinian Authority may be less skeptical now that much of
Mr. Arafat's authority has passed to Palestinian Prime Minister
Mahmoud Abbas, with whom Mr. Sharon will meet this week.
this peace train could be derailed again, either by new terrorist
outrages or by endless diplomatic qualifications.
Even as Israel's
Cabinet approved the road map, Cabinet members made clear that their
acceptance of a Palestinian state depended on the renunciation by
Palestinians of a "right to return" to areas in present-day Israel
which their ancestors left in 1948 and thereafter.
road map does not guarantee a right to return, which even Palestinians
know is impractical. It speaks of "an agreed, just, fair and realistic
solution to the refugee issue." That language would seem to raise
the possibility of a compromise in which the vast majority of Palestinians
would "return" not to Israel but to Palestinian-ruled areas.
A "right of
return" isn't the only issue on which new negotiations could come
unstuck. Palestinians likely will insist on the dismantling of a
significant number of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Divisions
in the Israeli government that Mr. Sharon was able to paper over
might open up again. Yasser Arafat could still make problems for
the more moderate Prime Minister Abbas. Finally, President Bush,
whose political base includes some hard-line American supporters
of Israel, might be tempted to relax pressure on Israel as the 2004
presidential election approaches.
are obvious, but so is the fact that there is no long-range alternative
to the two-state solution envisioned by the road map. It's time
for all parties to get moving.
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