Follow the road map

April 17, 2003|By Robert O. Freedman

AS THE war in Iraq ends, there are growing pressures on the Bush administration to move ahead with the "road map" that lays a path to an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

These pressures come from America's Arab allies, especially Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which were shaken by the war, and from Britain, the major U.S. ally in the conflict. Opposition to the road map comes from conservatives in Israel, especially such members of the coalition government as the National Religious Party and the National Union Party, and from the right wing in the American Jewish community and the Christian Coalition.

The problem with both supporters and opponents of the road map is that neither is willing to listen to the arguments of the other. And they fail to acknowledge that if there is no progress on a fair Palestinian-Israeli peace settlement, the two peoples are condemned to perpetual war.

The Iraq war rattled the governments of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Demonstrations in those countries, where their populations are unhappy over the lack of basic freedoms and shortages of opportunity, demanded that action be taken against the United States for pursuing a war against Saddam Hussein.

The United States can counter this by taking an active role in fostering an Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Further, U.S. cooperation with other members of the "quartet" that drew the road map - Russia, the European Union and the United Nations - would help British Prime Minister Tony Blair domestically and repair damage to U.S. relations with some of the EU nations caused during the run-up to the Iraq war. France, Germany and Belgium were chief among European countries that opposed the war. Britain, Spain and Italy favored it.

The road map, which President Bush is expected to release shortly, is intended to result in the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.

One problem is that Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Britain demand that the road map have a timetable with automatic steps of succession leading to an independent Palestinian state without any prerequisite requirement for the elimination of terrorism.

Another is that Israeli and American opponents of the road map oppose not only the surrender of any West Bank settlements but also the establishment of a Palestinian state, regardless of whether the Palestinians renounce terrorism.

These opponents are counting on the campaign for the 2004 presidential election to torpedo the road map because they expect Mr. Bush to court Jews and the Christian Coalition for votes. Further, they hope the president will be swayed by the reluctance of Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to have anything to do with the Palestinian Authority so long as Yasser Arafat plays a major role in it.

But if the newly appointed Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, or Abu Mazen, as he is known, manages to get his government approved by the Palestinian legislature, and is then invited to Washington by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, the pressure would then be on Israel to react.

Rather than oppose the road map entirely, wise Israelis (and American Jews) should follow Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's demand that the Palestinians must first root out terrorist groups before Israel makes concessions.

While it would be difficult for some in Israel and the United States to accept a Palestinian state, the costs of a continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza are just too big. As Mr. Sharon, an architect of the settlements and, until recently, an opponent of a Palestinian state, recently told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz:

"One has to view things realistically. Eventually there will be a Palestinian state. I do not think that we have to rule over another people and run their lives. I do not think we have the strength for that. It is a very heavy burden on the public, and it raises ethical problems and very heavy economic problems."

Robert O. Freedman is Peggy Meyerhoff Pearlstone professor of political science at Baltimore Hebrew University and visiting professor of political science at the Johns Hopkins University.

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