Obstacles on the road
THE starting point of the "road map" to peace in the Middle
East was stained by a suicide bombing at a Tel Aviv nightspot on
Wednesday. If Israel and the Palestinians are going to make it all
the way along that road to peace, they'll need the level-headedness
to steer around the obstacles that extremists throw in their path.
Undeterred by the Tel Aviv bombing, the United States formally presented
the road map to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Then the United
States and the other authors of the plan - the European Union, the
United Nations and Russia - handed it to Mahmoud Abbas, the moderate
new Palestinian prime minister. It was Mr. Abbas' welcome accession
to power that paved the way for release of the road map, which would
lead to creation of a Palestinian state in three years.
Last week, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat played his usual
game of obstruction, threatening to block Mr. Abbas' new cabinet.
In the end, he backed down, for once making a decision that was
genuinely in the interest of the Palestinian people.
The emergence of Mr. Abbas represents a diplomatic victory for Mr.
Sharon's long effort to write Mr. Arafat out of the picture - a
strategy supported by President George W. Bush. More importantly,
it is a victory for moderation and reform in the Palestinian community.
The other new dynamic in the Middle East is the emergence of the
United States as the uncontested power after the demolition of Saddam
This is the first time in two centuries that one nation is totally
dominant in the Middle East, says Michael Doran, a Middle East expert
at the Council on Foreign Relations. Until the end of the Cold War,
Arab countries could run to the Soviet Union for help against the
United States. After the Cold War, Saddam tried to fill the Soviets'
shoes as the chief impediment to U.S. power. Now the United States
can exercise its muscle - or merely threaten to do so - on a country
like Syria with great effect.
With that power comes responsibility. While always protecting Israel's
security, the United States must press the Israelis to stop the
expansion of settlements and to begin to withdraw from those erected
during the last three years. New and expanded settlements are an
inflammatory impediment to peace. Mr. Bush will have to push the
Israeli leader further than Mr. Sharon would like, and further than
Mr. Bush's political aides might wish. At the same time, the United
States should pressure Arab governments to stop providing the moral
support that legitimizes suicide bombings.
Americans often assume that peace in the Middle East is inevitable.
It may not be. Israelis daily live in the shadow of terrorism; Palestinians
live in under the weight of occupation. The sense of grievance is
deep and memories are as long as the history of the region.
Still, the road map is the best opportunity for peace in at least
three years - if the two sides vow not to be knocked off the road
by every extremist who straps on a belt of explosives.