Israel is Turning the Road Map Into a Road Block
Published on Thursday, August 14, 2003 by the International Herald Tribune
Israel is Turning the Road Map Into a Road Block
by Marwan Bishara

The Middle East "road map" is turning into the kind of initiative that gives international diplomacy a bad name, as the Bush administration, preoccupied with its occupation of Iraq, is proving unfit to undo the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.

The road map, conceived in Europe as an international initiative based on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was drafted in Washington and implemented in the context of the U.S. "war on terrorism." So the Bush administration ignores - and at times even rewards - Israel's flagrant violations of the road map under the guise of combating terrorism.

Israel's logic of force was demonstrated in military raids last week in Nablus, killing and injuring Palestinians. The raids triggered retaliatory suicide bombings Tuesday - both carried out by Palestinian teenagers from Nablus - in the Israeli town of Rosh Haayin and near the West Bank settlement of Ariel.

With Israel waging war in the occupied territories, the Palestinian Authority cannot crack down on Palestinian factions who signed on to the current cease-fire. That would amount to political suicide for the new Palestinian government and eventually lead to a Palestinian civil war.

As well as threatening the cease-fire, the escalation of violence this week will further overshadow Palestinian measures to enact reforms called for by the road map, measures that have largely been discounted by the Bush administration.

In the first stage of the three-phase initiative, the Palestinians were asked to produce a new interlocutor, reform their government and halt violence. They managed to do all three, in spite of many Israeli hurdles.

The post of prime minister was created despite Yasser Arafat's objections. The first to fill it, Mahmoud Abbas, has been praised by both Israeli and American officials as a leader committed to the peace process and to the demilitarization of the Palestinian struggle for freedom. He now commands considerable power in the Palestinian Authority, which he has used to implement further political reform as demanded by the road map.

First among these obligations is financial and security reform. Abbas's finance minister, Salam Fayad, a former representative of the International Monetary Fund, has succeeded in centralizing the government's budget and is making significant progress in ensuring transparency and accountability in all spending and official transactions. World Bank and United Nations officials I spoke to recently in Palestine had only good things to say about the financial reform that has been carried out under very difficult economic and political conditions.

Similarly, the new security minister, Muhammad Dahlan, the darling of the Bush administration, has centralized the security services in the interior ministry. Israelis have repeatedly praised Dahlan as their favorite interlocutor.

Arriving at the cease-fire with Israel, known as the hudna, proved more difficult. Against all odds, the Palestinian government enlisted the support of all Palestinian factions to stop all attacks on Israel for three months in order to ensure Israeli withdrawal in accordance with the road map. To end incitement against Israel, the Palestinians went as far as covering popular graffiti in the simmering and impoverished refugee camps.

For its part, Israel has paid lip service to the road map. Instead of acting to normalize Palestinian life by lifting closures, easing restriction and ending all military incursions in accordance with the road map, Israel has continued raiding Palestinian towns and arresting Palestinian activists it terms suspected terrorists. It has also maintained more than 125 road blocks in the West Bank and Gaza, rendering movement of people and goods impossible.

Most alarming for the Palestinians is the persistent expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, which the road map recognizes as the engine of instability and conflict. The government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon dismantled recently erected settlements, but then looked the other way as the settlers returned or relocated.

In reality, Israeli and Palestinian leaders see and seek two contradictory things in the road map. Palestinians read "independent, viable, sovereign Palestinian state" and they reckon its border follows the 360-kilometer (225-mile) Green Line that marks Israel's pre-1967 frontier. Sharon reads "provisional borders" and "attributes of sovereignty" and thinks of half a Palestinian state on half of the West Bank surrounded by 1,000 kilometers of walls and fences that exclude the lion's share of the Palestinian homeland.

The United States is allowing Israel to get away with creating facts on the ground to render the prospective provisional mini-state a permanent one. In the process Israel is transforming the road map into a road block to peace, with few objections from the plan's co-sponsors.

With President George W. Bush entering an election year, no one expects America to lean on Israel to stop its violations and implement the road map. That's why the other members of the quartet that drafted the plan - the United Nations, the European Union and Russia - must step back into heart of the process before this week's escalation intensifies into an open war.

The writer teaches international relations at the American University of Paris and is author of "Palestine/Israel: Peace or Apartheid?"

Copyright © 2003 the International Herald Tribune