Driving Along The Roadmap Trail


By Nevine Khalil

June 5, 2003

The first US-Arab summit set the stage for the long road to peace, but the pace of progress depends on how long Bush retains his hands-on approach.

Much to the displeasure of the media covering the first summit of its kind between five Arab leaders and a US president in Sharm El-Sheikh on Tuesday, no questions were permitted after conclusion of the closing statements of President Hosni Mubarak and his American counterpart, President George W Bush. There was no opportunity to tackle sensitive issues such as the new US "vision" for the Middle East, the tricky definition of "terrorism", the precarious status of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, a guarantee that the roadmap will be implemented, or criticism of Israel's obstructive behaviour during the peace process.

Understandably, prehaps, the less said was deemed the better, on the eve of a landmark summit between Bush, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Aqaba. In fact, Sharm El-Sheikh was seen by many as a precursor for yesterday's summit in Aqaba, where the Palestinians and Israelis were expected to show their true intentions with regard to the roadmap, as well as their intentions for the peace process.

Bush came to the Red Sea resort to hear Arab leaders confirming their support for the roadmap and their condemnation of terrorism. The Arabs, for their part, impressed on him the need for continued US involvement to ensure firstly that the parties remain on the road to peace and secondly, that the US proposal will not be altered to accommodate Israel's "reservations".

As expected, the roadmap peace plan was a critical point of agreement for the leaders of Egypt, the US, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. The participants also concurred that Israel must honour its commitments to the plan, drawn up, for the most part, by the US, but endorsed by a "Quartet", which also includes the EU, Russia and the UN. The Palestinians are required to end strikes against Israel, in return for which -- under the leadership of Abu Mazen -- they will receive all the help they need from the summit participants to create their own state by 2005.

Selecting the delegates for this limited Arab-US gathering was a delicate matter: Egypt, the first Arab state to sign a peace agreement with Israel which often plays the role of mediator between parties involved, hosted the gathering; Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah is the architect of the "Arab peace initiative" as it came to be known once it was endorsed by the Arab summit in Beirut in March 2002; King Abdullah is the ruler of Jordan, the second Arab country to sign a peace agreement with Israel, and has closer ties with Israel than most Arab countries; Bahrain's King Hamad bin Eissa Al-Khalifa is the current chairman of the Arab summit; Abu Mazen heads what is viewed by the US and Israel as a reformed and cooperative Palestinian government. In fact, Sharm El- Sheikh was seen as the initiation of Abbas onto the regional/international stage as the leading man in the Palestinian Authority.

Conspicuous absentees were the Arab League -- the secretary-general of which was conveniently in Beirut to attend a meeting of Arab parliamentarians -- Morocco; the chairman of the Jerusalem Committee, which cancelled because of "the domestic situation"; and Syria, a heavyweight which has been stigmatised by the US. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher enigmatically explained that participants at the summit were "those who agreed to the meeting".

Bush, showing flair and animation during the discussions, displayed a complete hands- on commitment to tailoring a peace plan in the Middle East, both visually -- he was seen behind the wheel of the golf-cart which delivered him, Mubarak and Crown Prince Abdullah to the news conference -- and verbally, asserting that "America is committed, and I am committed, to helping all the parties to reach the hard and heroic decisions that will lead to peace." Bush felt that the summit provided a "moment of promise" for peace in the region, because there is potential for unity against terror, the birth of a new Palestinian state and for broader peace among the people of the Middle East. "These goals require courage and moral vision on every side and from every leader," he read from his final statement. "We seek true peace. Not just a pause between more wars and Intifadas, but a permanent reconciliation among the peoples of the Middle East."

The Arab parties were able to maintain their consensual position: the full implementation of the roadmap by both parties simultaneously. Since the Palestinians have already complied with their requirements, noted Ahmed Maher, the onus is now on Sharon to work on confidence-building steps, end the occupation of Palestinian territories, dismantle settlements and "translate his words into specific policy on the ground". A close observer of events told Al-Ahram Weekly that Bush has already brought pressure to bear on Israel's government as indicated by its approval of the roadmap and Sharon's recent statements that "occupation" of Palestinian areas cannot continue.

In Sharm El-Sheikh, Bush evoked his June 2002 vision of two states, Palestine and Israel, co-existing in peace. He called on Israel to "respect the rights of the Palestinians, including the right to live in dignity, in a free and peaceful Palestine". He counselled the Palestinians to "embrace new leaders who stand for reform, democracy and fighting terror". For progress to be made, continued Bush, the "active commitment and support of neighbouring states" is required, expressing his pleasure to be "stand[ing] with leaders of the Arab world who are committed to these principles".

The American president believes that, "if all sides fulfill their obligations, we can make steady progress on the road to Palestinian statehood, a secure Israel and a just and comprehensive peace." Earlier in the summit, Bush underlined the responsibilities of all the players: "Israel must deal with the settlements; Israel must make sure there is a continuous territory which the Palestinians can call home... The leaders at the table have got a responsibility -- the biggest responsibility is to fight off any source of funding to terror, prevent terrorists from gaining a foothold."

The Arabs believe that the peace process, which came to a complete halt nearly two years ago, was given impetus at Sharm El- Sheikh. "We stress our admiration for Bush's personal commitment to the full implementation of the roadmap," stated Mubarak. The concluding statement he read on behalf of the Arab participants praised the Palestinian Authority's commitment to ending the violence, instilling law and order and pledged "continued support for Palestinian efforts to honour their commitments and consolidate their control over accountable democratic institutions". The statement called on Israel to "simultaneously" keep its side of the bargain, rebuild trust and restore normal Palestinian life.

Cautious optimism was in evidence among the delegates. Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Mu'ashar noted that "we are on the threshold of a new era", but in the same breath he added, "we don't want to be overjoyed because we understand this is going to be a lot of hard work. The peace process is not going to be smooth or easy." Amman believes that "a major hurdle" had been crossed after the Israeli government approved the roadmap. "From now on we need to help [the parties] reach the point where the occupation will indeed end by 2005," added Mu'ashar.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath believes in Bush's "seriousness; we see his increasing engagement", but he stressed that in order for real progress to be made, follow- up steps by the US, Arabs and the diplomatic Quartet are the "sine qua non for the success of the roadmap. Without this, it would be very difficult." To reassure all those gathered, Bush concluded his statements in Sharm El-Sheikh by noting, "We are determined to keep moving forward." The symbol-loaded image of Bush driving the leaders of two heavyweight countries in the region signalled that the Arabs are on board with his plans.

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

FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C íŸ 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.