A Middle East Roadmap To Where?
A Middle East Roadmap To Where?
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Biden’s New Policy on Security Assistance, NSM-20, Will Not Save Gaza
Biden’s New Policy on Security Assistance, NSM-20, Will Not Save Gaza
Report / Middle East & North Africa 5 minutes

A Middle East Roadmap To Where?

After several false starts, the Middle East diplomatic Quartet (composed of the U.S., the EU, the Russian Federation and the Office of the Secretary General of the UN) finally put its Roadmap to Israeli-Palestinian peace on the table on 30 April 2003.

Executive Summary

After several false starts, the Middle East diplomatic Quartet (composed of the U.S., the EU, the Russian Federation and the Office of the Secretary General of the UN) finally put its Roadmap to Israeli-Palestinian peace on the table on 30 April 2003. However, although the document has received widespread international endorsement, there is also widespread scepticism about its contents, about the willingness of the parties to implement its provisions and indeed of its sponsors to maintain allegiance to them.

The scepticism is warranted. The Roadmap adheres to a gradualist and sequential logic to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, a throwback to the approach that has failed both Israelis and Palestinians in the past. Its various elements lack definition, and each step is likely to give rise to interminable disputes between the two sides. There is no enforcement mechanism, nor an indication of what is to happen if the timetable significantly slips. Even more importantly, it fails to provide a detailed, fleshed out definition of a permanent status agreement. As such, it is neither a detailed, practical blueprint for peace nor even for a cessation of hostilities.

Yet, these and other worrying realities do not necessarily condemn the Roadmap to irrelevance. It is important to understand what the Roadmap is not – but also what it can be. It should be viewed as a political document that – along with significant unilateral changes within the Palestinian and Israeli arenas, and in the context of a transformed regional and international situation – might conceivably serve as a catalyst and vehicle to help Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab world internalise the requirements and contours of a sustainable peace agreement. The Roadmap can become a mechanism around which efforts by Palestinians and Israelis to return to a genuine political process are organised – indeed, further justifying these efforts by the promise of a political settlement.

Perhaps its most important contribution is as a public reminder of first principles: the need to end violent confrontation, to cease settlement activity, and to rapidly replace occupation and conflict with substantive negotiations that produce a viable and sovereign Palestinian state living alongside a secure Israel. Significantly, the first obligation on the parties is for the Palestinian leadership to reaffirm its commitment to “Israel’s right to exist in peace and security” and for the Israeli leadership to affirm its commitment to an “independent, viable, sovereign Palestinian state”. Moreover, its multinational authorship is itself an accomplishment, marking a break from a long period of unilateral U.S. involvement and setting a precedent for possible international intervention in shepherding and supervising a final status agreement.

Presentation of the Roadmap comes at a moment of relative promise that it can help solidify. The protagonists, bloodied by two and a half years of tragic and senseless conflict, appear both exhausted and unwilling to surrender, yet eager to find a dignified way out. Economically, Israelis and Palestinians are suffering badly – far more suffering for the Palestinians in absolute terms to be sure, but unprecedented hardship for Israelis as well.Palestinians are questioning the direction and purpose of the uprising with rare candour and openness. A new government is in place, led by Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), who has consistently and from the start objected to the militarisation of the intifada. In Israel, Prime Minister Sharon enjoys sufficient popularity and credibility to take steps for peace, should he be so inclined.

The U.S., fresh from its military success in Iraq, has greater regional leverage and influence and added reason to demonstrate that it can exercise its power even-handedly. It is being pushed in this direction by the one leader on the international stage with some influence over President Bush, Prime Minister Blair, who – put on the defensive domestically and in the Arab world over the war with Iraq – has staked much of his credibility on the promise of an energetic push on the Arab-Israeli front. Moderate Arab governments, challenged at home for their failure to oppose or prevent the war, similarly need to be able to point to progress and may therefore be prepared to use their influence to move the process forward. The swift U.S. victory may also have served as a warning to radical Palestinian organisations and their state supporters in Syria and Iran, reducing their ability to thwart political progress.

This should not erase the reasons for scepticism. ICG, like many others, has expressed its doubts about the gradualism and sequentialism that remains at the heart of the Roadmap. While the two sides undoubtedly are exhausted by the unrelenting violence, they paradoxically also have become increasingly numb to it. The new Palestinian government may not be able or willing to rein in militant groups, particularly given the state of its own security services and of the chaos within Palestinian politics and society. There is great uncertainty about whether Prime Minister Sharon will seize this opportunity and afford the new Palestinian government the necessary breathing space by immediately improving living conditions, in the process resisting the urge to react to every act of violence, and halting provocative actions such as targeted assassinations, house demolitions, and large-scale military incursions that cost numerous civilian lives – or whether, instead, he will play for time, seeking to avoid any real political compromise.

The U.S. administration, meanwhile, has over the past two years provided ample reason to doubt its commitment to a vigorous, balanced approach to the peace process. These concerns will only be magnified as the United States approaches its presidential electoral season – never a propitious time for bold Arab-Israeli diplomacy – and as a broad campaign has been launched within the U.S. to denounce the Roadmap and the multilateralism of which it is a product. As for the oft-mentioned impact of the Iraq war, only time will tell, but so far its most notable impact has been to freeze movement on the Israeli-Palestinian during the long months leading to the war.

For better or for worse, the Roadmap is the only diplomatic instrument available, endorsed by all relevant international players and at least rhetorically embraced by the two protagonists. Today, the most important questions are those that relate to political dynamics – among Palestinians, in Israel and in the United States. The Roadmap’s optimal purpose is as a facilitator and accelerator of more important developments: a decision by the Palestinian national movement to halt all military aspects of the intifada; a decision by Israel to fundamentally transform its rules of engagement and resume a meaningful political process; and a decision by the U.S. to engage in sustained and balanced diplomacy to achieve a comprehensive and durable Israeli-Palestinian political settlement.

Amman/Washington/Brussels, 2 May 2003

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