The Magazine

The Road Map to Nowhere

Do we really need another doomed Mideast peace process?

Mar 31, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 28 • By JOSHUA MURAVCHIK
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THREE DAYS before abandoning diplomatic activity about Iraq in the U.N. Security Council and delivering an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein, President Bush hastily invited reporters to the White House Rose Garden, where he announced a further initiative for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The president said that immediately upon the confirmation of a Palestinian prime minister, his government would formally present to the two sides the "road map" for peace that it had " close cooperation" with Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations--the other members of the so-called "quartet" that the administration has chosen as its new vehicle for Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy.

The announcement, which news reports said had originally been planned to follow the resolution of the Iraq issue, apparently was moved forward in order to give succor to those, especially British prime minister Tony Blair, who had gone out on a limb to support American policy toward Iraq. "Mr. Blair and others have demanded publication of the peace plan to quell the anger throughout the Arab world over the Bush administration's perceived focus on Iraq to the exclusion of the creation of a Palestinian state, the cause the Arabs consider paramount," explained the New York Times. In careful coordination, Blair followed Bush's announcement with a press statement of his own in which he declared, "The most important thing we can do is show even-handedness towards the Middle East." This formula, which Blair repeated more than once, apparently meant giving the Israeli-Palestinian question as much attention as Iraq. It may also have been intended to imply an approach of neutrality between the Israelis and the Palestinians, in contrast to the pro-Israel stance that the Arabs say Washington has usually taken.

Although the timing of the announcement seemed to have been improvised, it had long been expected that an Iraq war would be linked in some way to renewed activity on the Israeli-Palestinian front. President Bush had said in his February 26 speech to the American Enterprise Institute that "success in Iraq could also begin a new stage for Middle Eastern peace and set in motion progress toward a truly democratic Palestinian state." From a rather different perspective, Arab and European commentators have claimed that after taking down Saddam, the United States would have to compensate the Muslim world for this intrusion by assuring progress toward Palestinian independence.

That is the destination to which the road map is supposed to lead. But what is in this road map? What are its underlying premises? And will it get us to peace?

Three early drafts of the road map have made their way into the public prints, and administration spokesmen say that the final draft will vary little from the last of these, circulated in December. To reach the president's declared objective of the birth of a Palestinian state within three years, the map lays out detailed sets of reciprocal obligations grouped into three phases. In the first phase, to be accomplished within a few months, the Palestinians would "undertake an unconditional cessation of violence" (to quote from the December draft) as well as "comprehensive political reform . . . including drafting a Palestinian constitution and free, fair and open elections." The Palestinians would also resume security cooperation with Israel. For its part, Israel would withdraw from all Palestinian areas it entered since the start of the intifada, freeze all settlement activity, dismantling the "settlement outposts" erected since Ariel Sharon came to office, and "take...all necessary steps to help normalize Palestinian life."

In the second phase, to last six months, "efforts are focused on . . . creating an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders and attributes of sovereignty . . . as a way station to a permanent status settlement." This would be blessed by an international conference convened by the quartet. And it would be accompanied by steps by the Arab states to "restore pre-intifada links to Israel." During this time, the quartet would "promote international recognition of [the] Palestinian state, including possible U.N. membership." In the third phase, lasting two years and featuring still another international conference convened by the quartet, a "final and comprehensive settlement" would be "negotiated between the parties . . . that ends the occupation that began in 1967" and "fulfills the vision of two states, Israel and the sovereign, independent, democratic and viable Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security." This would be accompanied by "a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace."