A Guide to the Mideast 'Road Map'
Understanding the Latest Middle East Peace Plan
By Jefferson Morley
Friday, May 23, 2003; 11:15 AM
"Road map" is diplomatic-journalistic shorthand for a Middle East peace plan developed by the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations. It is called a road map because it envisions a step-by-step process by which both Israelis and Palestinians take actions to reach the eventual goal.
The road map has three phases.
The first phase focuses on ending violence and building confidence between the two sides. The Palestinians are supposed to stop all attacks on Israel and reform their governing institutions to make them more democratic and accountable. The Israelis are supposed to freeze the building of Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza and withdraw the troops that tightly control the lives of four millions Palestinians.
Phase two seeks to establish a provisional Palestinian state by the end of 2003.
Phase three calls for a final agreement by the end of 2005 dealing with the status of Jerusalem, which is claimed by both sides as their capital; the final borders between the two states; and the resolution of the issue of the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their original homes that are now are inside Israel.
The road map seeks to bypass negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Since the two sides have lost all faith in each other, the road map sponsors are seeking to have both sides take independent, simultaneous actions that will achieve their own goals. It is the first attempt at Mideast peace diplomacy since the removal of Saddam Hussein's anti-Israel government in Iraq.
The Bush administration agreed to the road map approach in 2002 after widespread criticism that it had no Middle East policy. Secretary of State Colin Powell has been its foremost supporter in the U.S. government. British Prime Minister Tony Blair linked his support for war in Iraq with U.S. support for the road map. Virtually all European leaders and many Arab leaders are supportive.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and prime minister Mahmoud Abbas have endorsed the road map. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declined to accept it until certain revisions were made to it. On May 22, the United States acceded to these demands.
Palestinian militant organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad oppose it, saying that it will effectively surrender most Palestinian lands to Israel. In an effort to stop it, Palestinian suicide bombers launches a series of attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers in mid-May. The refusal of the Israeli government to pull out of Palestinian areas or dismantle Jewish settlements strengthen their opposition.
Most of Sharon's partners in the Israeli government reject the idea of dismantling Jewish settlements or ceding a state of contiguous territory to the Palestinians. The Palestinian suicide attacks tended to strengthen their opposition.
Some leading members of the Bush administration share their opposition. A majority of members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have signed a non-binding resolution urging rejection of the road map on the grounds that it demands too much of Israel.
Soon. In the summer of 2002, the Bush administration conditioned its support for the road map approach on the replacement of Arafat as leader of the Palestinians. In response, Arafat appointed a longtime associate, Mahmoud Abbas, to become Palestinian prime minister. Abbas was acceptable to the United States, Israel and the international community because he publicly has called for suspension of Palestinian terror attacks on Israeli civilians.
For Israelis, the key test is whether the new Palestinian leadership prevents more attacks on Israeli civilians. For the Palestinians, the key issue is whether Israel ends its military occupation of Palestinian territories, and dismantles new Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas. The road map envisions the two sides taking action simultaneously.
The war in Iraq has certainly strengthened U.S. influence in the region. For the United States, the issue is whether it can use its unrivaled power to shape a more peaceful future for the region. While few people are very optimistic about the chances for peace, even fewer have a realistic alternative approach to ending a conflict that has resulted in the deaths of 1,700 Palestinians and 600 Israelis in the past 30 months.