There is more than one problem with the so-called "Road Map for Peace" in the Middle East. But the greatest hurdle of them all is Israel's rejection of the plan, put forth by the United States, jointly with the rest of the so-called Middle East quartet, consisting of the US, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.
Israel has made it clear that it has no interest in the comprehensive plan, detailing a final solution to one of the Middle East's most lingering conflicts. Clear rejection was uttered directly by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Saturday, January 18, 2003, ahead of his country's general elections. In an Interview with Newsweek, Sharon claimed, "Oh, the quartet is nothing! Don't take it seriously. There is [another] plan that will work."
More recently, following a meeting with US President George Bush on March 30, 2003, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom set new conditions before 'any implementations' of the peace plan. According to Agency France Press, Shalom said that prior to the implementations, Palestinians had to "fight terrorism". To those unaware of Israel's manipulation of the term "terrorism", Shalom was indirectly suggesting that such a plan would ultimately never be implemented.
Israel is clever, one must admit. But in a world of a much more honest media, Israel's deceptive tactics could easily be exposed. Given the fact that the Road Map has garnered a great deal of attention and has been applauded by Europe, several Arab regimes and has received praise by the American administration, and to a lesser degree by the media, Israel's blunt rejection of the plan could cause political harm. To avoid such a loss, Israel reactivated an old scenario, where it would pose conditional acceptance of the plan, with a few "minor" revisions. Israel thus revised the Road Map, this time adding many new points, practically drafting an entirely new plan.
However, to Israel's disfavor, Secretary of State Collin Powell, stressed in a recent meeting in Brussels, as did US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, before members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, that the Road Map will be published as is, without revisions.
Can the United States juggle both issues, publishing the Road Map without change, yet avoiding the already heated pressure on the White House (already under increasing pressure due to the Iraq war plunder), mostly by AIPAC activists, who are pushing for a letter to be signed by most Congress members to urge Bush not to pressure Israel, and to keep the status quo of the Arab Israeli conflict?
But even if the US stood its ground at this point, this steadfastness would mean nothing if the Israelis refused in the end.
For the Palestinians, approval of the plan came very early on in the game, and was, to a degree, immature.
As early as September 18, 2002, senior Palestinian official, Saeb Erekat described the "general tone" of the Road Map as "disappointing" and said it "resolved nothing".
Erekat was right. The draft, which was later made available to the public, and was published via Israeli and other media outlets around the world, addressed three stages that would start with ending "Palestinian terrorism" and would conclude with the establishment of a Palestinian state in 2005. Although the plan is phrased in a way that placed certain expectations on both Israelis and Palestinians, it continuously pressed Palestinians to initiate reform as a prerequisite for Israeli action. Palestinians are expected to end "terrorism, violence, and incitement". Israel would then, "freeze settlements". Only Palestinians are expected to implement security and political reforms, yet the right wing, racist Israel government, and the Israeli army, violently occupying Palestinian territories are to do nothing, except to withdraw, once Palestinians end their violence, to the pre-Intifada borders.
The Palestinian Authority (first with a few reservations, later without any) accepted the plan and pressed Israel to accept it as well. The plan not only failed to emphasize the need to acknowledge international law, and to address key issues, such as the right of return to Palestinian refugees, borders, water, Jerusalem, but also failed to even define the borders of the 'viable' state or provide any mechanism or guarantees to secure the implementation the plan.
Of course Israel is stressed over two points within the plan, the freezing of the settlements and the establishment of a 'viable' Palestinian state. One must recall the platform of the Israeli Likud Party in the most recent elections last January, to realize why such demands upset the entire formula that led to the coalition government in Israel: "The Likud will continue to strengthen and develop these communities [illegal colonies in the Occupied Palestinian territories] and will prevent their uprooting .. The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan River .. Jerusalem is the eternal, undivided capital of the State of Israel and only of Israel.. The Jordan Valley and the territories that dominate it shall be under Israeli sovereignty." If you think that such a platform is hostile, then read the platforms of the National Union and the National Religious Party, both important players in Sharon's coalition.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not lingering due to the lack of ambiguous peace proposals such as the Road Map, which was manufactured as a political tool to legitimize the United States' no longer trusted role in the Middle East. The conflict is not facing deadlock due to lack of Palestinian reforms (although such reforms are needed, the current reforms as only aimed at suppressing and outlawing Palestinian resistance and the Palestinian people's right to defend themselves without any expectations on the Occupying Power whose polices have claimed the lives of thousands and wounded tens of thousands in the last two years alone.) The problem continues because Israel refuses to acknowledge the most basic elements needed to resolve the conflict, the implementation of international law that call for full withdrawal from the occupied territories, the right of return to Palestinian refugees and the right of the Palestinian people to self determination.
As long as Israel continues to reject international law, continue the wholesale slaughter of the Palestinian people and its occupation of Palestinian lands, the Road Map will continue to lead to nowhere; at best, it will remain a political tool in the hands of the American policy makers, and a tool to be used by Israel and certain elements within the Palestinian Authority to marginalize, even subdue the Palestinian resistance.
Baroud is the editor-in-chief of PalestineChronicle.com and the editor of the anthology titled: 'Searching Jenin: Eyewitness Accounts of the Israeli Invasion"
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