The Middle East road map to peace is like a backcountry dirt road in Vermont. You can't get there from here.
The United States, along with the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations (the "Quartet," as the grouping is known), has introduced a road map for "a final and comprehensive settlement" of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by 2005. The there of the road map is based on the two-state formula of "land for peace" that many Israelis and Palestinians have ostensibly but not actually supported for many years. Israel will end its occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem that began after the 1967 Six-Day War. These areas will form the geographic basis for "an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel." As a first step along the road, the Palestinians leadership will act "decisively against terror."
The Palestinians have accepted the principles of this road map; the Israelis haven't. Predictably -- it happens every time there is a move for peace in the Middle East -- those on both sides who reject the idea of a two-state solution have stepped up their violence: The Palestinian rejectionists with murderous terrorist attacks; the Israeli government with lethal military excursions into Palestinian areas. What else is new?
The Palestinians, under pressure from the Quartet, have at least got themselves new leadership. Prime Minister Abu Mazen and his Minister of Security Mohammed Dahlan have vowed to break the power of Hamas and similar groups that oppose coexistence with Israel. A crack-down on terror by the new Palestinian leadership could lead to a Palestinian civil war.
Israeli leaders have always complained that with Yasir Arafat in power, Israel lacked a partner for peace. For the moment, Arafat's power is weakened. Now the shoe is on the other foot. To move successfully against their own rejectionists, Mazen and Dahlan need a partner for peace on the Israeli side. Practically speaking, they need to shore up their support from the Palestinian people with evidence that they are making progress towards the Palestinian state envisioned by the road map. They cannot act against Palestinian terrorists without assurances from Israel that there will be a reward for the risk that they plan to take. That reward is spelled out in the road map. Israel must issue "an unequivocal statement affirming its commitment to the two-state vision." It must freeze construction of Jewish settlements, dismantle those built since March 2001, end the demolition of the homes of Palestinian militants, and begin a military withdrawal from Palestinian areas.
Secretary of state Colin Powell in a meeting this week with Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon tried to get Israeli approval for the road map but got bupkes (nothing). An editorial in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz categorized Sharon's support for "a Palestinian state" as "hollow." Sharon "has not internalized the conceptual changes necessary to achieve a peace arrangement based on compromise," the paper said. He "has yet to give up the vision of the settlements and creeping annexation of the West Bank."
Significantly, President Bush failed to give Powell active backing. Decisive when it comes to war, Bush seems to have little interest in expending political capital in waging peace. His position on Israel is driven by domestic opportunism. Israel has become a wedge issue, like homosexuality and abortion. By giving Sharon a blank check, Bush hopes to wrest the traditionally-liberal Jewish vote away from the Democrats. He could be successful. A significant portion of the Jewish community is willing to sacrifice its own liberal values in behalf of Ariel Sharon. This faction is shameless. A full-page "Happy Birthday, Israel" ad from the American Jewish Committee in the N.Y. Times on May 7, quotes liberal icons Eleanor Roosevelt and Martin Luther King as supporting Israel, which they did. But both died before the beginning of the Israeli occupation. To insinuate that they would support the occupation and the jackboot policies of Ariel Sharon is an insult to their memory. But it's of-a-piece with the support that many American Zionists accept from right-wing Christian fundamentalists who, with their apocalyptic theology, are willing to have Israel fight Muslims down to the last Jew.
A successful journey along the road map to peace depends on pressure from the international community. Such pressure has worked to forge a new Palestinian government. The Israelis, however, don't trust the UN or the European Union. The U.S. alone has influence over Ariel Sharon.
The Jewish community in the United States, as it is in Israel, is split over the idea of land for peace and the settlement movement, but the supporters of Sharon are better organized, better funded, and have the ear of both major parties.
Tikkun magazine ("Tikkun" means "to mend, repair and transform the world" in Hebrew) is organizing a community of activists to challenge the power of America's pro-Sharon Lobby. It supports the road map for peace but goes further in its willingness to work with Palestinian moderates for an outcome that "guarantees dignity, justice, and security to both sides." (For information: www.tikkun.org).
Both Palestinians and Israeli's need security in order to have peace. The new Palestinian government needs international support and a commitment to progress from the Israeli government if it's going to successfully break the power of the Palestinian terrorist organizations. The Israelis need to accept the conditions and goals of the road map and help the Palestinian moderates succeed. Failure means more violence, more terrorism, an endless cycle, a road map to nowhere.
Americans, as Tikkun suggests, have to pressure the Bush administration to forcefully promote the road map to peace and, additionally, give their support not to the Palestinians or the Israelis per se, but to the brave people on both sides who are willing to take risks, move forward, and break the impasse.