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The Roadmap and other Gimmicks

 March 16, 2003

 Ami Isseroff 

The resolution of the Iraq issue, one way or another, will hopefully open another window of opportunity for peace, similar to the one opened after the war with Iraq. There is every sign, however, that Israelis and Palestinians are working very hard to keep the window closed.

The United States should have learned something from the experiences of the Clinton administration during the years of the Oslo accord, but if they did, it is not evident in the current roadmap plan.

The assumptions underlying of US policy during the Oslo years were that any differences between the Palestinians and the Israelis were essentially technical, and could be bridged by procedural solutions: different maps, better diplomatic formulations, a different format for meetings, or another declaration about the PLO constitution. The basic approach did not change, even after the failure of the Oslo process. Many postmortem examinations of the failure of the process criticized technical and procedural failures. Thus, we are told that the problem is that Ehud Barak did not start negotiations early enough, or that the accords were too vague, or that there was no good enforcement mechanism. This is mistaking the symptoms for the disease.

The Mitchell Committee's recommendations for restoring order after the Oslo process failed were also technical and procedural. The committee was careful not to find fault with anyone for the outbreak of violence in 2000, or for the thousands of settlement units built in the West Banks and Gaza since 1993. These were apparently 'spontaneous' phenomena. Houses just decided to get built, and people just decided to explode themselves in Israeli cities. Incorrect concepts lead to absurd conclusions.

The roadmap proposed by the US and its European allies is based on proven principles. It is the same approach as the policies that have failed until now. The premises are that the roadmap will provide a better set of procedures needed to overcome previous failures. According to this view for example, Palestinians funded terror and incitement because of some flaws in the accounting procedures of the Palestine Authority. This could supposedly be corrected by double-entry book-keeping. Palestinian leaders, in this view,  refused to accept Israeli conditions because of insufficient democracy. Since an overwhelming majority of Palestinians support suicide bombings and literal implementation of right of return for Palestinian refugees, it is difficult to see how more democracy would have helped bring about an agreement. In any case, it is hard to see how any democratic procedure among Palestinians would approve of Israeli annexation of large parts of the West Bank, which is what Ariel Sharon intends to offer as a final settlement. It is also difficult to believe that the Israelis "forgot" to withdraw, or built settlements by accident, or that the Palestinian authority simply overlooked large stores of weapons and explosives, or that a roadmap mechanism will enforce compliance unless the guarantors are willing to send troops to enforce it.

Therefore, the roadmap must be viewed as just another set of gimmicks designed to produce the illusion of a peace process. Like the Oslo accords, the roadmap is framed in vague language allowing each side to interpret it as they wish. However, even the best - crafted set of words are not as strong as the will of men. No set of words can substitute for a genuine will to make peace.

The central lesson of the failure of the Oslo process is inconvenient, and has accordingly been studiously ignored. The process failed because neither people were ready for peace, except on terms amounting to surrender of the other side. The policies of the leaders reflected this view, as much as they helped to shape it. Any peace initiative that does not take this into account is doomed to failure.

In the face of the American resolve to "show progress" on peace between Palestinians and Israelis, and the need to satisfy their own national goals, both Palestinian and Israeli leaders have managed the peace process for many years by staging an elaborate charade, a show that is put on for the foreign tourists. Declarations of intentions and photo-ops and announcements in English radiated peace and compliance. In reality both sides were digging in and strengthening their positions. "Israel will make painful sacrifices for peace" translates into 2000 new housing units and ten or twenty thousand new settlers a year. "The Peace of the brave" translates into suicide attacks in reality. The "Palestinian State" became a series of powerless enclaves when the Israelis translated it into an implementable agreement. The "92 to 97% of the land" of the Camp David and Taba negotiations would have become about 70 or 80% when the Israelis translated it into reality. Support for legality and nonviolence and UN resolutions declared by the Palestinians has translated itself into a proposal to flood Israel with millions of Palestinian refugees, thereby putting an end to Jewish self-determination. Support for a Palestinian state by Israel is translated into support for a number of enclaves with "attributes of sovereignty," thereby putting an end to Palestinian self-determination. The dialog consists of doublespeak with which we are all familiar. Both sides want "peace." The Israelis want "peace with security" which means annexation of most of the Palestinian areas. The Palestinians are for "peace with justice," which means return of the refugees.

The sides can invent new dodges as fast as the US and the Europeans and the UN can find new procedural solutions and gimmicks. The US demanded a Palestinian prime minister, so Arafat obliged them with a prime minister, with much fanfare, and is quickly voiding the office of any power or meaning. The US demanded Israeli agreement to a Palestinian state, so the Israeli government acquiesced in a Palestinian state, and quickly proceeded to rob that state of any power.

The success of the charade depends on the willingness of the audience to be fooled. During the Oslo years, anyone could see that the settlements were getting built, and anyone could hear the bellicose and racist propaganda emanating from Palestinian media., but the Clinton administration chose to let itself be fooled. The alternative is to admit failure, or to take on the responsibilities of guarantors. The USA and its allies want peace between Palestinians and Israelis, but they don't want it enough to send soldiers to disarm terrorists or dismantle illegal settlement outposts. That is certainly unrealistic, so a "roadmap with teeth" is unrealistic.

For this willing audience, both the Israeli and the Palestinian leaderships are now readying the stage for a replay of the Oslo follies, with a slightly different setting, but essentially the same plot. The Israelis and the Palestinians will issue proclamations of support for the roadmap. The Palestinians will continue to insist on Israeli withdrawal as a prelude to real reform. Thy will continue to support terror under the table while condemning it in front of the TV cameras. Israel will continue to insist on a period of calm and a commitment to nonviolence on the part of the Palestinians before withdrawing from the areas reoccupied during the Intifada. At the same time, Israel will make  it impossible to restore calm by continuing the regimen of arrests and incursions that began shortly before the elections, and was escalated after Sharon interpreted the lopsided election results as a license to kill. Eventually, both sides will reach the end of their patience and endurance. Some steps will be taken, and both sides will proclaim that calm and normality have been restored, when in reality they are only preparing for the next round of violence. This is grim future being prepared for us.

If the process is going to rely on a roadmap and enforcement mechanisms, then  the roadmap must be tied to real deeds that are meaningful for the process, including a real settlement freeze, a real end to Palestinian terror and disbanding of groups that are committed to terror. The penalties for failure to comply must be real, and there must be a willingness to enforce them. This is clearly unrealistic. Nobody is going to send large numbers of troops to enforce a peace settlement here, and even if they did, the "settlement" would disintegrate as soon as the troops left. The most we can expect is veiled expressions of diplomatic displeasure or threats to cut off aid that is spent on settlements or suicide belts - but only threats. Israeli-USA face offs in the future will look quite a bit like the face offs with the Begin and Shamir administrations. Behind the scenes Americans will discuss courageous scenarios, and State Department officials will say "F--- the Jews, they didn't vote for us." But in public, everyone will come out smiling and lauding the firm ties between the USA and Israel. The USA is not going to turn on its best ally in the Middle East, and would not do so even if there were no Jews in the United States. Both the EU and the USA have invested too much in Yasser Arafat and the PNA to abandon them entirely as well. The UN can hardly abandon or chastise the PLO after recognizing enthroning it as the "only legitimate representative of the Palestinian people." Paper enforcement mechanisms will remain on paper.

What is needed is a commitment by both sides to real peace. That will not happen until both the people and the leadership are really convinced that there is no other way, and the "audience," the Americans and the Europeans and the UN, are no longer willing to let themselves be fooled by a make-believe peace process, and are willing to invest their prestige and money in popularizing peace and in empowering moderates in both societies. Making believe there is no problem at all invites disaster. Acquiescing in cosmetic changes in the Palestine Authority and calling Ariel Sharon a man of peace are steps in the wrong direction.

Ami Isseroff,



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