The road map issued by the Quartet initially provided a stimulus to the peace process not only between Israel and the Palestinians, but between Israel and the broader Arab world. Unfortunately, the Palestinians made no effort to satisfy the principal terms of the road map and recent statements by their leaders suggest they have no intention of fulfilling the promises they made in April 2003.
A road map typically offers multiple routes, and it is clear that even the sponsors recognized their plan was not “a sacred text or treaty” as the acting U.S. consul general in Jerusalem put it. The map will inevitably change, as the UK Ambassador to Israel stated, and should be viewed as a guideline for resuming negotiations.
The actual text of the road map is different from what was described in the press, so it is important to read it carefully. Upon doing so, it is clear that the first point is that a two-state solution “will only be achieved through an end to violence and terrorism, when the Palestinian people have a leadership acting decisively against terror and willing and able to build a practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty.” This has been Israel’s position all along. Terror must end for progress to be made.
The Palestinian Authority has consistently said it has no intention of fulfilling its promise to dismantle terrorist organizations or to confiscate illegal weapons. Palestinian terrorists rejected the road map and declared their intention to use violence to sabotage peace negotiations, and they did just that, launching more than 200 attacks between May 2003-July 2004. It was clear from the outset the plan would never get off the ground unless the Palestinian Prime Minister disarmed the terrorists and arrested their leaders. One visible test suggested last May was the arrest of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the leader of Hamas, who said “Our resistance...will continue and no one will stop it.” Neither Yassin nor any other leaders of terrorist organizations were arrested.
The plan has what many analysts considered too optimistic a timeline, envisioning a final agreement in just three years. The sponsors recognized progress depended on compliance. This was crucial, because the failure of past peace efforts was in part due to the unwise adherence to a timetable without regard to Palestinian compliance with their obligations. The Palestinians' intransigence in meeting their obligations has subsequently made the timetable irrelevant and led Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to formulate his disengagement plan.
Sharon and President Bush have agreed that the disengagement plan is consistent with the road map, but it represents unilateral actions on the part of Israel to fulfill most of its road map commitments. The Palestinians still have to do their part to achieve the goals of the Quartet.
A key to the plan is the establishment of democracy in the Palestinian Authority. To date, the Palestinian Authority has been characterized by one-man rule and has not demonstrated a commitment to democracy. The first Palestinian Prime Minister, Abu Mazen, was not elected and did not enjoy wide support in the Palestinian Authority. He was appointed by Yasser Arafat and never had full authority to negotiate with Israel or to carry out the necessary security measures.He resigned in frustration and was replaced by another Arafat loyalist, Abu Alaa, who has been given no more power than his predecessor.
The road map calls for the entire Arab world to recognize Israel. Egypt and Jordan remain the only Arab nations to have done so. Moreover, the Arab states have failed to fulfill the plan’s requirement that they stop all funding and support of terrorist organizations.
Many of the obligations laid out for Israel have already been met. For example, Prime Minister Sharon has said he supports the creation of a Palestinian state, and Israeli institutions have never been engaged in incitement against Palestinians. Still, Israel will have to make tough compromises to reach a final agreement with the Palestinians, Syrians, and Lebanese. In the short-run, Israel expressed a willingness to ease the plight of the Palestinians and took measures aimed at helping Abu Mazen succeed, but these steps were undermined by violence, which forced Israel to do what was necessary to protect its citizens.
Israel is asked to freeze all settlement activity, “consistent with the Mitchell Report.” It is important to recall that former Senator Mitchell himself made clear that violence had to end first before Israel was expected to implement this step. Similarly, the Road Map calls first for the “unconditional cessation of violence” by the Palestinians. The plan also requires an end to incitement by Palestinian institutions, which was also a key component of the Oslo accords that has never been fulfilled.
The IDF is to withdraw “as security performance moves forward.” Israel has consistently expressed a willingness to withdraw from areas where the Palestinians exert control; however, each time Israel has withdrawn in the past, new rounds of terrorism have followed. This cannot be permitted. Despite the risk, Israel is now preparing to disengage from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank.
The United States must be the party that ultimately determines whether the parties have met their obligations before moving forward with additional phases of the road map. Unfortunately, the other members of the Quartet, the Russians, Europeans, and United Nations have a long history of one-sided support for the Arabs in the conflict and cannot be trusted to be fair arbiters of performance.
According to the road map, Phase II was supposed to be completed by the end of 2003 with Palestinian elections and the “possible” creation of an independent state with provisional borders “through a process of Israeli-Palestinian engagement.” Unless the Palestinians dramatically shift their policy, it is unlikely this phase will be completed by the end of 2004.
The plan calls for an international conference. This could be constructive if is used to support the bilateral decisions of the parties; however, the history of Middle East peace conferences has been that most of the participants gang up on Israel, the Arab states attack Israel, and the rejectionists hold a veto over any decisions. A conference cannot impose a settlement on the parties. Given the divisions within the Quartet over the Iraq war and other issues, it is unlikely a conference will be held or could be productive.
Reviving the multilateral discussions on key regional issues could help make progress on water resources, environment, arms control and other matters. Some of these forums did make some progress after the Madrid conference before they were abandoned. To date, these multilateral discussions have not been resumed and this component of the plan has been ignored.
Phase II calls on the Arab states to take an important step and “restore pre-intifada links to Israel.” There is no reason why Arab states could not immediately resume trade and diplomatic ties with Israel. More than a year later, they have largely moved in the opposite direction, increasing their level of incitement against Israel and calling for a strengthening of the Arab League boycott.
Like the Oslo accords, the road map puts off the resolution of the most difficult issues until the last phase. As in the prior phase, the sponsors rely on an international conference to support the negotiation of these issues. Israel and the Palestinians, however, must negotiate a resolution in bilateral talks to the issues of borders, refugees, settlements, and Jerusalem.
The goal of the road map can be achieved. The positions of the parties are already clear, and the possible areas of compromise have been discussed in past negotiations. If the violence stops, the people of Israel will take the risks necessary to allow the Palestinians to have an independent state. And if the Arab states are willing to normalize relations with Israel, the dream of a comprehensive peace can be realized.