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The Road Map: A Peace Plan or Another Palliative?

May 12th, 2003

Naseer H. Aruri

Unlike the September 13, 1993 Declaration of Principles (DOP), there is no Rose Garden ceremony or a historic hand shake. Absent also are the Oslo euphoria and the hasty declarations of victory for American diplomacy after 26 years of a crippling impasse. Ten years later, the impasse has deteriorated into open war against defenseless civilians, denied international protection by their oppressor in collusion with the sole conciliator and self-labeled “honest broker.” Having conquered Iraq and positioned itself to reshape the strategic landscape of the Middle East, Israel’s chief diplomatic backer, arms supplier, and bank roller has released another “peace” plan that was waiting in the drawer. The Road Map was handed to an “empowered” Palestinian prime minister on April 30, 2003 by one of the sponsors, the EU, while the US Ambassador released the text to Israel, as if to signal the global hierarchical order.

Unlike the DOP, which was drawn up by Israel’s Foreign Office lawyers but sponsored by the United States, this “peace” plan originates in a seemingly international document sponsored by the U.S., EU, Russia and the U.N, first surfacing in August, 2002 and retooled the following December. Some of the forbidden terms left out of the DOP lexicon are included in the Road Map—terms such as endgame, occupation, independent viable state, timetable and reciprocal duties. Given all these “improvements” why would Prime Minister Sharon and his super rightist colleagues entertain a document, which is presumed to entail a “more generous” offer to the Palestinians? The answer to this question has several aspects: the first has to do with the linguistic structure and the built-in gridlock, which invite conflicting interpretations meant to benefit the stronger party, Israel. The second is derived from the altered strategic landscape in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, and the place of this Road Map in the Washington’s designs in regional and global contexts. Additionally the facts on the grounds as a consequence of new settlements, by-pass roads, the devastation of the Palestinian economy, destruction PA institutions, and the so-called Separation Wall have all made the imbalance of power even greater.


This is described as “a performance-based and goal-driven roadmap, with phases, duties, timelines, target dates, and benchmarks aiming at progress through reciprocal steps by the two parties…[whose] destination is a final and comprehensive settlement …by 2005, as presented in President Bush’s speech of 24 June, 2002”. A Major flaw in the Road Map is the absence of mutuality, reciprocity and sequencing, in favor of conditionality. The language is so vague and non-constraining on Israel that its duties will not even begin until the Palestinians declare and establish a unilateral “cease-fire” and bring about the cessation of all Palestinian resistance. Israel will be the judge and Sharon can sit still indefinitely waiting for the Palestinians to fulfill their obligations. In the absence of international monitors, he alone will make such a determination. Even though the Palestinian cease-fire is expected from the opposition, Israel’s decision—when it comes—would be governmental.

The Road Map delineates three phases with dates and duties as well as a connection between goals and results. Thus, phase I, which was supposed to end in May 2003, would have seen the end of the Intifada, and the resumption of security cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis based on the “Tenet work plan to end violence, terrorism, and incitement through restructured and effective Palestinian security services.” The premise of the latest plan is that the 36-year old impasse is not caused by an abnormal, illegal and severely repressive occupation, but by the Palestinian resistance to that occupation. Thus, in exchange for ending the resistance, Israel would be expected to normalize life for the Palestinians, as if the occupation is normal while resistance is abnormal. One might expect that normalcy would come about as a result of the termination of the occupation, a far more crucial task than ending the conflict, yet terminating the occupation is not called for until the end game when the Palestinians have met all the performance criteria.

Indeed, the threshold of requirements for the Palestinian Authority has been raised so high that not only the newly designated Palestinian Prime Minister who lacks domestic legitimacy is bound not to reach it, but even Arafat himself, a symbol of Palestinian nationalism, would flunk the test too. This is a rather asymmetrical plan, whose calculus of reciprocity is so lopsided as to render it unworkable. If Israel, the regional super power, had been unable to suppress the Intifada for two and a half years, how can the decimated PA forces, led by a distrusted cabinet minister and an untested prime minister regarded widely as an American/Israeli choice, accomplish that task? Their role at best would only earn them the status of a quisling and potential promoters of a civil war.

Moreover, in Phase I, the Palestinians are expected to “immediately undertake comprehensive political reform in preparation for statehood, including drafting a Palestinian constitution [Which has been done already], and free, fair and open elections upon the basis of those measures.” In exchange, “Israel withdraws from Palestinian areas occupied from September 28, 2000 and the two sides restore the status quo that existed at that time, as security performance and cooperation progress. Israel also freezes all settlement activity, consistent with the Mitchell report.” One wonders how can such reforms and elections be promulgated and conducted in numerous enclaves separated from each other by check- points and roads rendered unsuitable for automobile travel by the Israeli authorities.

During phase I, the Israeli leadership is expected to issue “unequivocal statement affirming its commitment to the two-state vision of an independent, viable, sovereign Palestinian state living in peace and security alongside Israel, as expressed by President Bush, and calling for an immediate end to violence against Palestinians everywhere.” All official Israeli institutions must end incitement against Palestinians. Israel’s “duties” would also encompass ending home demolitions and attacks on Palestinian civilians, improving the humanitarian situation for Palestinians, allowing freedom of movement for Palestinian officials, releasing tax payments owed to the PA, and dismantling new settlements “outposts” constructed since March 2001, when Sharon became prime minister. One might ask what the definition of terror is, and whether it includes, in addition to Palestinian resistance, acts of terror by settlers and soldiers against Palestinians, including U.S. support, private and public. Would the “terror” category include such attacks as when about 50 religious settlers, led by Rabbi Beni Elon, the transferist Minister of Tourism raided an Arab home in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah quarters on May 3rd and threw a child out of the broken window they had entered by? The Israeli Committee Against Home Demolition and Ha’aretz (May 4, 2003) reported on the gruesome attack in which a “two-year-old flying baby, falling from the 2nd storey window, five meters high, ending up in hospital traumatised.”

One must also ask about the definition of incitement and its relationship to self-defense, provocation and criticism. Would the Palestinian curricula have to be scrutinized to insure that the Palestinian narrative is excluded? Much of these “duties” recall similar attempts to modify Palestinian political culture by Benjamin Netanyahu at the US sponsored Wye River agreement in 1998. Would the rhetoric of Gush Emonim and the “transferists,” inside Sharon’s cabinet (Effy Eytam, Avigdor Leiberman, Tommy Lapid, Ehud Olmert, Trachy Hanegbi, Uzi Landau, Benyamin Netanyahu) qualify as incitement by the Quartet? Indeed, the National Union Alliance parties (Moledet, Tekuma, and Israel Beitenu) ran in the elections on a platform of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. Is that not incitement on the Israeli side? Indeed, would the historical/biblical rights narrative by Israel be considered incitement? Would the facts of Palestinian history under Zionism be included in Israeli texts because the absence of which is incitement, since most Israelis have no idea why Palestinians are resisting?

Moreover, the frame of reference for the “vision” of a Palestinian state is not the numerous resolutions of the United Nations, itself a member of the Quartet which sponsored this Road Map, but President Bush’s June 24th, 2002, speech, which was mocked repeatedly by Israeli and European journalists as one that could have been written by Sharon. Phase II is supposed to begin in June 2003 and end in December of the same year, during which “efforts are focused on the option of creating an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders and attributes of sovereignty.” The Palestinian leadership is obligated to act “decisively against terror,” and demonstrate willingness and ability to “build a practicing democracy.” This phase starts after Palestinian elections and ends with the possible creation of an independent Palestinian state with “provisional” borders in 2003.

The most important question to be raised here is where and how will this state be established? How can it be viable if it is not contiguous? The West Bank is already fractured into three Bantustans and each one of those Bantustans has been fragmented into some 60-70 enclaves separated by Jewish settlements, physical infrastructure and check-points. Moreover, the apartheid inspired wall currently under construction in the northwestern and eastern West Bank will separate Palestinian farmers from their agricultural land and further facilitate the creeping ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, and insure non-contiguity. Moreover the phrase “provisional borders” is not a known concept in international law. Either the state has borders, which it controls, in which case it is independent, or it does not have them or control them, in which case it is a controlled dependency. Oslo’s concept of “external security,” which was assigned to Israel, came to mean that Israel has control over the so-called self-rule areas space, borders, air and water. Post-Oslo Israel will not settle for anything less. At best then, this envisioned Palestinian “state” with “attributes of sovereignty” will not be independent, nor will it exceed 42 per cent of the West Bank, exactly what Sharon configured during the 1980s. The new phrase, “attributes of sovereignty” is but the latest diplomatic fiction, which extends earlier ploys such as “shared sovereignty,” “sort of sovereignty,” “dual sovereignty.”

In the third phase, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are to commence with the assistance of an international conference aiming towards a “permanent status agreement, including borders, Jerusalem, refugees, and settlements,” thus ending the Israel-Palestinian conflict in 2005. Ending the occupation instead of the conflict might have been a more urgent endeavor, particularly if the Security Council adopted a new resolution to that effect, instead of holding an innocuous international conference without mechanisms of enforcement, due to US obstructionism. That would have been more congruent with the phrase which reads: “The settlement would be negotiated between the parties based on UNSCR 242, 338, and 1397, that ends the occupation that began in 1967.” No where do we read in the Road Map that the illegal settlements must be dismantled and rolled back. Unlike the so-called “outposts” built since the second Intifada, settlements would only be frozen if the process ever begins.

Phase III also includes an “agreed, just, fair, and realistic solution to the refugee issue, and a negotiated resolution on the status of Jerusalem that takes into account the political and religious concerns of both sides, and protects the religious interests of Jews, Christians, and Muslims worldwide, and fulfills the vision of two states, Israel and sovereign, independent, democratic and viable Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security.” The conference would also “support progress toward a comprehensive Middle East settlement between Israel and Lebanon and Israel and Syria.”

Again, like Oslo, the “final status” issues will be negotiated outside the international consensus and without an international framework. Resolutions 242, 338 and 1397 are not adequate, since Israel has already declared the inapplicability of 242 to the West Bank. Additionally, none of these include Palestinian fundamental rights enshrined in countless UN resolutions and other international instruments (resolutions 2535, 2649, 2672, 2787, 2792 recognizing the Palestinians as colonized people entitled to independence and possessing inalienable rights, or 3236 reaffirming their rights to self-determination, national independence and sovereignty).
The “realistic solution to the refugee issue” does not rest on resolution 194, article 13 of the universal Declaration of human rights, or the Covenant on Civil and Political rights. In fact Sharon told Army Radio on the 55th anniversary of Israel’s establishment that Palestinian renunciation of the right of return ``is something Israel insists on and sees it as a condition for continuing the process.'' That means that the process itself is being held hostage to PA renunciation.

Nor does the “negotiated resolution on the status of Jerusalem” include resolution 194 (internationalization) or resolution 2253 of July 4, 1967, calling upon Israel to “rescind all measures taken [and] to desist forthwith from taking any action which would alter the status of Jerusalem.” Given that these final status issues are the core of the Palestine question, their resolution outside the international framework is likely to be at least as intractable and contentious as previous attempts at Camp David and Taba. Now that the US and Israel have shifted the international consensus in the aftermath of the conquest and occupation of Iraq, the Camp David and Taba deals might not even make it to the table, the “road” to which seems to have been effectively re-mapped, to use a favored word of the Bush Administration and its supporters regarding its policy in the Middle East.


America’s war for hegemony has yielded, for the time being, a Middle East in which, as the President’s father said twelve years ago, “What we say goes.” The saber rattling against Syria as well as the bellicose statements made by a number of neo-conservatives in Congress, the think tanks and the Executive branch about Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other Arab states and parties add up to a triumphalist posture in which the regional landscape is America’s to mold, if not reconstruct, including issues of peace and war. Thus, the first visit by Secretary of State Colin Powell to Syria after the invasion of Iraq has laid out conditions, warnings and requirements consistent with imperial arrogance. An Associated Press headline sums it up: “Syria is clear on Expectations, Powell says.” Powell told “Meet the Press” afterwards: “There are no illusions in his [Assad’s] mind as to what we are looking for from Syria.” He reiterated the same with more blunt language on ABC’s “This Week” by saying: “What I said to him is that we would be watching and we would measure performance over time to see whether Syria is prepared now to move in a new direction in light of these changed circumstances.” In fact, Powell’s words left no room for diplomatic subtlety with insulting remarks such as the US is interested in action, not assurances and promises that can be judged by America’s own monitoring procedures. Not unlike the Road Map’s expectation from the Palestinians, conditionality is America’s to delineate. Syrian “performance” must conform to the post-invasion realities, which assign new privileges to the victor over the vanquished. The transformed realities of the Middle East were described by Powell as “monumental,” having presumably emerged not only because of regime change in Iraq, but also in Palestine. America’s military “victory” did not only enhance its regional hegemony, but supposedly elevated its super power status in such a way as to render the aspirations of big powers such as Russia, Germany and France for autonomous roles in the global arena rather subdued, hence a green light for unconstrained US unilateralism in the Middle East.

What then are the implications of the regional and global contexts for the prospects of the Road Map as a process to solve the Palestinian-Israel conflict? The Road Map makes an explicit reference to a “comprehensive Middle East settlement between Israel and Lebanon and Israel and Syria.” Mr. Powell said that he asked Assad to terminate the presence of what he described as Palestinian terrorist groups in Syria, a condition already met by Assad. There is little doubt that the ultimate success or failure of the Road Map in Palestine would depend on a US decision to empower Mahmoud Abbas to deliver to a small segment of his Palestinian people besieged in the occupied territory relief from Israeli repression under the guise of an “independent, viable state”. And to facilitate a credible agreement to the larger segment—the refugees and exiled—that will not allow the refugees to become a lethal demographic weapon against the Jewish character of Israel. For that to happen, we should look at two scenarios, the first is optimistic, while the second is perhaps more realistic.

The first one is predicated on the assumption that the outcome of the Iraq invasion would enable Bush to argue that the presumed Iraqi “threat” to Israel and the US has been decisively averted, hence the time has come to stabilize the region under US auspices and in accordance with the US agenda. Such a move would not be dissimilar to the President’s father’s failed policy twelve years ago. This scenario assumes that Israel’s domestic proponents would refrain from challenging Bush, since he has already proven to be the most ardent champion of Israel to sit in the White House. And yet, Bush does not want to risk losing the Jewish vote as his father did in 1992, hence whatever pressure he might muster would have to be divided between Sharon and Abbas with most of it falling on the latter.

The second scenario is that, not unlike previous US plans ongoing since 1969, the Road Map is the latest un-implementable plan. Both Bush and Sharon are perhaps betting on Abbas’ easy to predict failure, hence the built-in gridlock in the Road Map, which could guarantee the failure and enable Sharon and his successors to negotiate for two to three more decades. Such a strategy has become part and parcel of Israel’s approach to a negotiated settlement. Itzhak Shamir was the first one to admit it publicly when he revealed that his embarkation on the Madrid conference twelve years ago would usher in ten years of negotiations without ever coming to an agreement. Oslo was then the best example of protracted negotiations, in which Israel kept on trying to re-negotiate what has been negotiated, in pursuit of the Zionist consensus that the area lying between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea can only accommodate a single sovereignty. In that context, negotiations as such become Israel’s favorite strategy enabling Israel to conquer land and resources in “peace times” and to declare the Palestinian leadership recalcitrant and irrelevant not deserving to sit on the table before ending “terror.”

Should the first one succeed, the domestic requirements would have to be conducive to a 2004 electoral victory for Bush and his Party. And yet, Sharon could always stall until the beginning of the election season. The odds, however, favor the second scenario, which is more consonant with both the post-invasion realities and America’s diplomatic record in the region since 1967. Given that the dooms day scenarios about open rebellion in the Arab street did not materialize, and given that the prospects of a protracted Iraqi resistance seem remote in the immediate term, with much gloating in the neo-conservative ruling circles in Washington, the question remains now whether a diplomatic initiative in Palestine is even a priority for the Bush Administration. Bush’s commitment to the success of the Road Map would have to be weighed against a net political deficit that would ensue from the combined efforts of the Israeli lobby, bolstered by Evangelical and neo-conservative forces well entrenched in the ruling elite.