Sharon Was Insincere From The Start


By Yossi Beilin*

Jerusalem Post
September 11, 2004

At the opening of a recent cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon asked his ministers not to refer to the road map anymore. This despite the fact that he promised President George W. Bush that his plan for a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the northern West Bank was an inseparable part of the road map, and the president quickly confirmed that.

For those who have forgotten, the road map speaks of three phases: In the first, the two sides will carry out confidence-building measures, including an open Palestinian fight against terrorism and a freeze of settlements by Israel. In the second phase, a Palestinian state will be established within provisional borders – but it will be recognized by the world and operate as a state for all purposes. In the third, a permanent settlement will be agreed upon, including the final borders between Israel and the Palestinians, a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem, and Jerusalem's final status and security arrangements. The final status settlement was supposed to go into effect in 2005.

The road map was manufactured by Europe in 2002, adopted by the Bush administration at the end of the same year and, in 2003, presented to PA Chairman Yasser Arafat by representatives of the quartet – the US, UN, Russia and the EU. It was presented to Sharon by the American ambassador to Israel.

From the start it was clear the two sides were not thrilled by the plan. The Sharon government wanted the second stage very much, in the hope that it could be perpetuated so that, on the one hand there would be a Palestinian state, and on the other it would control only a small part of the territories. In this way, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would go from being a national struggle to just another border dispute, one of many in the world.

The Palestinians wanted the third stage very badly, in which the final status agreement was to be implemented. They expected such an agreement would resemble the Clinton plan, or the Bush vision, or – in greater detail – the Geneva Initiative. They did not by any means want to enter the trap of a state within provisional borders, understanding that Sharon intended to perpetuate those borders. Since they estimated that Sharon never seriously meant to freeze settlements or act according to the map's guidelines anyway, the Palestinians decided to say yes without "but" and, surprisingly, approved the road map without conditions.

The Israeli government, however, presented the administration with no fewer than 101 reservations. After a reprimand from Washington, these were reduced to 14 points. After that the road map became the only Bush administration-era document agreed to by all sides; everyone – opponents and supporters – swore by it, though usually without any intention of actually implementing it.

When Sharon appeared at the Herzliya Conference on December 18, 2003, he announced that if he determined the road map was dead and that there was no negotiating partner, Israel would undertake unilateral steps. Three months later he apparently concluded the road map was dead and rushed to present his plan for a unilateral disengagement. Thus, the only "map" supposedly agreed to by all sides was laid to rest, even though nothing dramatic happened on the diplomatic front between Sharon's Herzliya speech in the December and his April 14, 2004 disengagement plan announcement. The Americans refused to join in Sharon's conclusion about the road map because after all, it's one of Bush's only accomplishments regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, except for his famous vision.

And that is why it was not hard for Sharon to promise them that his planned withdrawal was part of the same map. He didn't mean it seriously, and they are not idiots, but the game went on. At that recent cabinet meeting Sharon decided to end the game and issued an official death certificate for the road map. And an American administration willing to put up with the continuation of the settlements is certainly not going to get into an argument with him over what Sharon didn't mean for even one minute – reaching a final settlement with the Palestinians.

About the Author: Yossi Beilin is leader of the Yahad Party.

More Information on the Security Council
More Information on the Road Map
More Information on the Israel-Palestine Conflict

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