Israel Stalls Over New "Roadmap"


By Justin Huggler

March 23, 2003

The US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, has scheduled talks with the Israeli Foreign Minister amid mounting concern that international pressure to push forward the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians is faltering.

With all eyes on the US and British invasion of Iraq, the fact that the "road map" international peace plan has not been released, as President Bush promised it would be by now, has gone largely unnoticed. Meanwhile, the Israeli government has thrown up new objections to the peace plan, calling for all references to an "independent" Palestinian state to be dropped. Some European diplomatic sources are already raising fears that the "two-state solution" promised by George Bush may be in danger.

The US President pledged just over a week ago that the "road map" would be released when the new Palestinian Prime Minister took office. But Mahmoud Abbas was named as premier several days ago, and yesterday the details were still unreleased. The European Union's envoy has said he hopes it may be released in 10 days while the United Nations is talking about two weeks, but privately, some diplomatic sources are less optimistic. Mr Powell will hold talks in Washington with the Israeli Foreign Minister, Silvan Shalon, but only at the end of the month.

The road map, drawn up by the Middle East "quartet" of the US, Russia, the EU and UN, is based on President Bush's call for a Palestinian state alongside Israel. It calls for both sides to fulfil a number of different conditions and for the creation of the new state within three years.

The delay in its release could prove damaging to Tony Blair, who has put a lot of emphasis on presenting Britain and the US as moving the Middle East peace process forward at the same time as the invasion of Iraq. President Bush's pledge to release the road map was widely seen at the time as a sop to help Mr Blair amid British public opposition to his support for an attack on Iraq.

It will also raise alarm around the Middle East, where Arab governments, already facing some of the worst civil unrest for many years from populations incensed by the invasion of Iraq, are warning the US that it needs to push the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians forward if it wants to be seen as even-handed. And in the occupied territories, it will add to a growing sense of desperation. Many Palestinians now believe that their leadership has done what was demanded of it, by appointing a new Prime Minister, only to be rebuffed.

The Israeli government has already said it wants more than 100 changes made to the road map – and with international attention focused on Iraq, in the past week it has quietly announced some new objections, calling for all references to an "independent" Palestinian state to be replaced with "certain attributes of sovereignty".

Israel's Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, has made it clear that the Palestinian state he is prepared to agree to will be severely limited, with no control over its borders or airspace and no right to agree treaties without an Israeli veto. That is unlikely to satisfy Palestinian demands.

More Information on Israel, Palestine, and the Occupied Territories
More Information on the "Peace Process"

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