‘Road Map’ Critics Are Off Course

It is astonishing that in America, many Jews are not heartened by President Bush’s "road map" toward Middle East peace, officially made public last week. These Jews fear that Israel will be pressured to make premature concessions and prefer no diplomacy to one in which Israel would have to give up something — anything.

Their opposition fails to take into account the changes that have swept through the Middle East over the past few months. A year ago, there were suicide bombings, Yasser Arafat reigned supreme, the intifada seemed unstoppable and war loomed in Iraq.

Now, the Palestinian Authority has a new prime minister who starts by calling for an end to "armed chaos," a halt to the military struggle and the end of corruption in the Palestinian Authority. Under pressure from the United States, the Europeans and key Arab states, Arafat has suffered a huge political setback.

The Iraq war is now over and seizing the opportunities provided by the U.S. victory and the incipient Palestinian reform, Bush has finally agreed to let the Quartet (Russia, the United Nations, the European Union and U.S. leadership) publish the road map, a new plan for resuscitating the peace process based on ideas Bush himself presented in a speech last June 24.

Meanwhile, Israel’s military strategy has appeared to work, and attacks against Israelis have declined in recent months. The drop in attacks and his recent re-election give Prime Minister Ariel Sharon leeway. He now voices cautious but optimistic support for the Bush initiative.

Sharon continuously reminds his public of the "painful concessions" Israel will need to make and speaks openly about dismantling some settlements, withdrawing from territory and "seizing the opportunity" created by the fall of Saddam Hussein.

No one has accused Sharon of turning into a left-wing dove, but observers note a new pragmatism in the rhetoric of the prime minister. He knows that a settlement, one with "painful concessions," is not only inevitable, but it is in Israel’s best interest. The Israelis cannot afford economically to let this war of attrition continue unchecked.

There’s more positive news in the polls. Approximately 55 percent of Palestinians and 61 percent of Israelis now support the road map, according to a joint poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) in Ramallah and the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Seventy percent of Palestinians now support a mutual cessation of the violence, according to PSR.

Israel’s security and economy have suffered egregiously during the intifada. Now there’s a possibility of beginning to move in a new direction. Worth at least trying? I think so.

Nevertheless, the critics complain about this road map with its three phases. In the first, Palestinian violence must end and reform — already begun in advance — must proceed, grow and deepen.

In the second, a Palestinian transitional state is to be formed without borders but with plenty of Palestinian obligations and commitments. Only in the third phase is a permanent settlement reached.

The innovation in the road map is that Israel must make some concessions along the way to smooth the process, and the critics just don’t like that. They think the road map is lopsided in favor of the Palestinians.

That’s odd. Reading the text, one can find 13 clauses that directly address the problem of Palestinian support for terrorism and corruption in the Palestinian Authority.

These far-reaching clauses include: ending violence, dismantling terrorist groups, collecting weapons, arresting militants, reinstituting security cooperation under the auspices of the CIA, consolidating Palestinian security forces, cutting off neighboring Arab support for terror, a constitution, a prime minister, elections and detailed reform of Palestinian economic, judicial and administrative institutions. This is all in Phase I.

What is Israel asked to do? Seven steps. Three of these steps are almost trivial: facilitating travel of Palestinian delegates to reform sessions, reopening closed institutions in East Jerusalem, such as the chamber of commerce and facilitating Palestinian elections.

The other four are more complicated: dismantling settlement outposts erected since 2001, freezing all settlement activity, refraining from actions that undermine trust (i.e., deportations, house demolitions, attacks on civilians and attacking Palestinian infrastructure) and "as comprehensive security performance moves forward," withdrawing progressively from areas occupied since September 2000.

Still, it is ludicrous to claim that this is lopsided in favor of the Palestinians, when they have to do the vast majority of the initial work. Plus, as Bush has made clear, if the violence doesn’t stop, the process will never move forward.

Withdrawals and concessions won’t be expected of Israel if the Palestinians don’t do their utmost to end terrorism. And if terrorism resumes in this performance-based program, the process stops and moves backward.

Unlike the Oslo process, there are built-in penalties for the absence of compliance. To quote the text, "Noncompliance with obligations will impede progress."

But the critics also don’t like the idea that the road map is an international Quartet creation, one that they claim deviates from the Bush vision of June 24, 2002. Yet, if you read that speech, he envisioned a process of Palestinian reforms and end to violence and major Israeli concessions.

I suspect the opponents think that because the European Union (including the French), the Russians and the United Nations are supporting it — and some Arab states like it — the road map is automatically suspect. But that is a direct slap at Bush. It’s a vote of no confidence, and it’s not fair.

After all, every time the road map drafts have been revised, they have been improved from Israel’s point of view. And when the president said it could not be published until the Palestinians took further steps, it wasn’t published.

Many American Jews do not want to see parties who have been unfriendly to Israel involved in the implementation process. This is why the Quartet dynamic is anchored by the United States.

Why should anyone think that this president, who withstood global pressures not to go to war in Iraq, would be susceptible to international pressures on Israel? Why would this president, so devoted to loyalty, who is widely accused of being a unilateralist, suddenly on this one issue cave in to many of the countries that have so irritated him over the last few months?

Clearly, it is better for the ultimate success of the process to have other key members of the international community on board than shouting from outside, but the president has demonstrated repeatedly that if the Palestinians do not perform according to their commitments, he will have no problem in withstanding international pressure, just as he has done so often in the past.

Some critics have even suggested that the road map is a prize for terror and doesn’t punish Arafat enough. That is difficult to fathom.

There is no prize for terror in a process that goes nowhere without an end to violence. Arafat has been punished rather than rewarded by the international community’s shoving a prime minister down his throat, the greatest political defeat he has ever suffered.

Involving an Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen)-led government in the road map process will show Palestinians that a pragmatic, nonviolent strategy that recognizes Israel’s grievances is beneficial, while Arafat’s terror-oriented strategy leads them nowhere.

The promotion of Abbas is only the first step out the door for Arafat, a move that 50 percent of Palestinians see as "an erosion in Arafat’s status and authority," according to the PSR’s latest polls.

Criticism that focuses on the details of the road map are misguided, because the small details aren’t yet the issue. The road map is just what its title says: a guide. It is not an imposed solution but rather a framework for returning the parties to the negotiating table through the cessation of violence.

The new Palestinian government can only prove itself in one way: implementing Abbas’ call for an end to violence and taking the tough steps to commit a 100 percent effort to stopping the violence. Half measures will not do.

But success will not occur instantly. It will take weeks, even months, to recreate anti-terrorist measures that work, to create an effective Palestinian security force, to arrest perpetrators and to confiscate illegal weapons.

So I say to the road map’s opponents: don’t let your fears control your minds. There is no perfect plan, certainly not after the violence of the last two and a half years.

But there are reliable friends, and the United States and this president have demonstrated their friendship with Israel repeatedly in the last few months. Now comes a win-win opening: a plan that can break the logjam at a critical moment for America, when Israel can only benefit. And it really is risk-free, because performance-based guarantees at every step will either make the road map work, or we will know why it failed and who was responsible.

Let it never be said that Jews started to take advantage of every opportunity to lose an opportunity.