Can the Road Map Be a Path to Peace?

Question: How is the Middle East road map, which President Bush will submit to Israelis and Palestinians next month, be helpful to the United States and Israel?

Answer: The United States is in the midst of a difficult war, in which U.S. objectives are likely to be compromised unless it can build support — or at least, reduce hostility — in the Arab world. Both the governments of Jordan and Egypt, states at peace with Israel, are insistent that the United States address the Israeli-Palestinian question, otherwise, the United States risks regime change, resulting from overwhelming domestic unrest, in these longtime allies, and the United States will need assistance in Iraqi reconstruction.

While the United States should not cave in to pressure, supporting the road map is the right thing to do. Israel needs the road map, because, as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said recently, the Israeli economy is on the brink of collapse and can only be rescued through an agreement with the Palestinians.

Q: Doesn’t the road map put most of the obligations on Israel, rather than on the Palestinians?

A: On the contrary, most of the obligations in the critical Phase I are on the Palestinians. They must first end all violence against Israel. Verification will be by the CIA.

The Palestinians must also restate their commitment to live in peace with Israel. In return, Israel will return to the positions held before the outbreak of the intifada, end punitive measures against Palestinians and freeze settlements.

None of the requirements on Israel will take effect until the Palestinians end violence. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell have both made that clear.

Only when the Palestinians have proven by their performance and political reform that they are ready for negotiations will any moves toward a Palestinian state be considered. Even then, the United States will be there to guarantee Israeli security throughout.

Q: The road map was drafted by the so-called Quartet: the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia. How can we trust them to be fair and impartial?

A: They drafted the road map but, as the road map makes explicit, the United States will be the arbiter and will determine what constitutes compliance by either side. One does not have to trust the Europeans to be fair to Israel; one has to trust Bush. For example, changes in the draft of the road map made thus far by the United States have been favorable to Israel.

Q: What about Palestinian reform and Arafat?

A: Arafat is losing his position of unquestioned leadership in the Palestinian Authority. The election of Abu Mazen as prime minister was a significant setback for Arafat and indicates this. Both the Bush and Sharon governments welcomed Mazen’s election (Sharon entertained him at his ranch early this month).

Both governments say that Palestinian reform is moving ahead in a number of areas, most notably in the Finance Ministry, where genuine accountability and transparency has been implemented by Finance Minister Salam Fayed.

Q: What is the attitude in Israel toward the road map?

A: The recent polls in Israel all indicate strong support for achieving peace through territorial compromise with the Palestinians. Like the Israeli government, the Israeli people are watching to see if Mazen is the partner for whom they have been waiting.

Despite the violence of the past two years, Israelis overwhelmingly are ready to give up settlements and return most of the territories gained in 1967, in return for a binding peace that will guarantee their security. The road map offers that.

Israelis are very mindful of the fact that more than 750 Israelis have been killed in acts of terror since the Oslo process collapsed after the failure to reach an agreement at Camp David in 2000. This contrasts with less than a dozen killed in the three years leading up to Camp David.

That disparity was the result of Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation, which the road map would reinstate and strengthen, with further guarantees for Israel to protect against the collapse, which occurred with the onset of the intifada.

M.J. Rosenberg is director of policy analysis for Israel Policy Forum and a longtime Capitol Hill staffer.