The Road Map is Stuck in a Morass
The drafters of the Road Map, —the Americans, the Europeans, the Russians and representatives of the United Nations acting within an ad hoc structure: the Quartet — had tried to drawn on the lessons of the last failed attempts to settle the Israeli-Palestinian question following the collapse of the Camp David and Taba negotiations in July 2000 and in January 2001 and two years of Intifada. To reverse the drift observed during the Oslo Peace Process in 1993, the Quartet embraced three main ideas:
First, an insistence on simultaneous efforts from both sides to avoid any imposed conditions which could lead to impasse; the Palestinians were to have dismantled their armed organizations and the Israelis were to have frozen colonization.
Second, the Road Map provided for the creation of a control mechanism, supervised by the Quartet, to independently evaluate the progress achieved on the ground.
Third, the plan provided for milestones in three phases: a series of measures to restore confidence in the two parties (by June 2003), the creation of a Palestinian State with temporary borders (by June-December 2003), and later a state with permanent borders established as the outcome of negotiations on the most crucial issues in the Israel-Palestinian conflict: the status of Jerusalem, the future for Palestinian refugees, the fate of the Israeli colonies and the drawing of borders. This last phase was to have been completed by 31 December 2005, opening the way towards the normalization of relations in the region. As with the plans of the past, the Road Map did not honor all its commitments, and that’s the least one could say. But the Road Map is still cited in official discourse and it will serve as a signpost during the Israeli legislative elections scheduled for 28 March 2006.
The paradoxical success of a plan, which has obviously failed in terms of its declared ambitions, is due to several factors. “It is the only plan accepted by all parties”, explains a European diplomat involved in crafting the Road Map. "It’s hard to imagine anyone proposing something else." But the façade of consensus is unable to dissimulate profound divergences. If Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon now sees merit in a plan which he termed not serious at its introduction three years ago, it is because he has succeeded in modifying it to his advantage. Mr. Sharon has inserted changes into the plan, which are contrary to both its spirit and letter and which have resulted in preconditions, starting with the disarming of armed Palestinian militias.
The Israeli Prime Minister has also successfully neutralized the Quartet for more than a year with his Gaza evacuation plan, presented against all evidence as being in harmony with the Road Map. During this period, colonization continued with the green light from Israeli authorities,. The construction of the Security Wall will allow Mr. Sharon, as one of Mr. Sharon’s advisors, Tzipi Livni, has observed, to unilaterally draw the borders to his liking. Mr. Sharon could conceivably get along with the two initial phases of the Road Map but his does not see any utility in negotiating the final status of the Palestinian Territories.
THE DIPLOMATIC BLACK HOLE
Mahmoud Abbas finds himself in a far different situation: he is ready to leapfrog the two initial phases in order to initiate immediate negotiations on the final status of Palestine. Mr. Abbas, hostile to the idea of forcibly disarming armed Palestinian militias, which have gained in popularity since the Intifada, is at odds with the steps contained in Road Map and believes that only an agreement on crucial issues can convince the groups of the superiority of a peaceful settlement to armed struggle.
This fundamental divergence in viewpoints between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders is a guarantee of impasse, which the Quartet is content to accommodate. Of course, the new chairman of the Labour Party, Amir Peretz, also believes that the Road Map is a waste of time and that is it necessary to jump to final negotiations as soon as possible, manifestly to avoid a third Intifada. But Mr. Sharon seems better placed than Peretz to win the 28 March elections.
As is always the case in the Israeli-Palestinian matters, the apparent status quo dissimulates the dynamics which will make future negotiations more difficult (should they ever start) on a definitive end to the conflict. The settlement blocs are consolidated and annexations are carried out de facto by “enclosure”, especially to the east of Jerusalem, complemented by the sanctuarization of the Jordan valley. This leaves only a hollow shell of a state and impossible to sell to the Palestinians as a receipt in full.
It is interesting to note how uninvolved the members of the Quartet are with their own peace plan and the lack of concern they display towards their unfulfilled commitments. It is equally interesting to note how political impotence gives way to activism when it’s a question of obtaining from international donors the considerable sums which make the Palestinians the most assisted people on the planet without this aid resolving the structural dysfunctions caused by the Israeli occupation and constraints imposed in the name of security.
The EU has just furnished an illustration of the diplomatic « black hole » which weighs upon the region by pathetically burying a report drafted at its request and by its own members on Israeli colonization activities in East Jerusalem since 1967. It is as if it has been ordained that diplomacy in that part of the world should have no purpose other than uselessness.
Le Monde 22.12.05