Give the ‘Road Map’ a Memory


By Michael Young

Daily Star
June 11, 2003

Everyone knows the "road map" is lined with potholes and perilous off-ramps, but such a grim appraisal is easy. It is far more challenging to spot where the meaningful exceptions lie. Last weekend a Likud minister, Tsachi Hanegbi, said this about how he and his Cabinet comrades intended to advance the peace plan: "My assessment is the present Israeli government … will not take down even one settlement in the course of its current term, which will last at least four years. This will not be." Maybe Hanegbi was buying Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon breathing space on his right, a slot populated by a farrago of zealots and several out-of-the-closet ethnic cleansers. Or maybe he was expressing Sharon's deepest thoughts, those of a settler champion who was the agent provocateur behind the 1982 Lebanon invasion with its covert purpose of relocating the Palestinians to Jordan.

But then this news item appeared in the Israeli daily Haaretz Monday: A poll by Tel Aviv University's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies showed 59 percent of Israelis said they would accept the removal of all settlements located outside major settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, compared to 50 percent last year. Remarkably, 56 percent (up from 48 percent last year) supported "a unilateral withdrawal from the territories in the context of a peace accord, even if that meant ceding all settlements." In other words, a growing majority of Israelis would give the Palestinians the territory they demand.

Moreover, only three percentage points separated those who agreed to give up all settlements and those who preferred regrouping settlers in large settlement blocs, suggesting that keeping even part of the Occupied Territories was not a priority for most Israelis. The poll exposed how little Hanegbi and his associates spoke for an emerging consensus in Israel.

So what? Sharon seems solidly in place for the foreseeable future, and the Labor Party, which alone might express that consensus, is suspended in the mother of all leadership vacuums. It is plain that until Palestinians play on the changing domestic mood in Israel, Sharon will survive. He may offer Israelis no solution to their corrosive occupation of Palestinian land, but the radical Palestinian groups, by pursuing armed struggle inside Israel, allow Sharon to avoid offering one.

The hypocrisy on all sides is astonishing. From the Palestinian Islamists the promise of permanent resistance is contradicted by the facts. At the end of last year Israel's chief-of-staff, Moshe Yaalon, admitted Hamas had agreed to key concessions during secret talks with two Palestinians it now hesitates to meet: Premier Mahmoud Abbas and Security Minister Mohammed Dahlan. Hamas was allegedly willing to give up demands for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders (or, even, the September 2000 lines) as a precondition for a cease-fire. All the group wanted was that Israel stop killing its officials.

The Sharon government thrives no less on duplicity, cognizant that a repudiation of violence by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades would mean Israel must offer the Palestinians something significant in return. Instead, Sharon has sought to force the Palestinians to renounce a right of return for their refugees, and wants the Bush administration to endorse this. Washington is said to have refused, though Bush did compromise by referring to Israel in Aqaba as "a vibrant Jewish state."

If the road map is to work, the plan's sponsors must sort out these insincerities. An Israeli government that seeks to pre-emptively undermine a Palestinian right of return and that dithers before removing even tiny settlements is one with no desire for peace. If Hamas and Islamic Jihad insist that only more resistance will alter Israeli attitudes, while disregarding that most Israelis have agreed to forego the Occupied Territories, they are lying about their real intentions.

That's why the road map requires another measure, one the Bush administration has overlooked: Stipulation by the "Quartet," of the general contours of a settlement, similar to what President Bill Clinton offered in December 2000. To be relevant the road map needs a memory of past Israeli-Palestinian understandings. They were the fruit of a post-Oslo consensus that continues to echo in Israeli public opinion today.

More Information on the "Peace Process"
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