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Even After Israeli Election, ‘road Map’ Likely to Be off Course

January 22, 2003
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The much-touted “road map” for progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appears to be leading nowhere.

For months, Bush administration officials have said the impending Israeli election was the reason they were not yet endorsing and implementing the road map.

But analysts say the chances that the United States will bring new energy to the product of the Quartet — the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia — after the Israelis pick their new prime minister next week are slim.

In Washington, the road map is viewed as a nonstarter, essentially dead until other foreign policy priorities, especially U.S. military action against Iraq, are completed.

“The road map is not American policy,” said Scott Lasensky, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “It’s a big question mark.”

On the surface, the road map remains the document of reference when discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We have worked very hard to develop a road map that we believe will give us a way forward and will lead us onto a path that will result ultimately in the creation of a Palestinian state,” Secretary of State Colin Powell said Monday in New York.

“That is President Bush’s objective, and we look forward to moving ahead with our efforts when the Israeli election is over.”

While many drafts have been circulated to the parties and leaked to the media, the United States has neither officially unveiled nor endorsed the map.

The Bush administration has preferred to keep its focus on Iraq, and save the Israel-Palestinian conflict for later. Bush administration officials privately cite the opportunity that arose after the Persian Gulf War in 1991 that led to the Madrid Conference and, ultimately, the Oslo peace process.

Analysts believe the Bush administration is keeping talk of the road map alive largely to appease European and Arab nations, which believe that the United States should be focusing more on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and less on Iraq.

The United States also needs Europe and the Arab countries on board if it pursues military action against Iraq.

Many here are already comparing the road map to the Mitchell Report, which was released in 2001, touted by the Bush administration as the guiding principles of Middle East intervention, but then went nowhere.

In a telling sign, William Burns, who was the State Department’s main envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is in the Middle East this week to talk primarily about Iraq, not the Israel-Arab conflict.

And the deputy secretary of defense, Paul Wolfowitz, told The Washington Post last week that U.S. efforts “pushing for a Palestinian state will grow” after military action against Iraq.

It seems that the international community has gotten the message that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is on the United States’ back burner.

England sponsored its own talks in London last week among Quartet members and Arab states — but not Israel — about reform in the region.

Analysts say that after the votes have been counted in the Jan. 28 Israeli elections, Israel will remain unwilling to support the road map, and will encourage the United States to do likewise.

If Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wins, which is likely, he may be forced to create a right-wing coalition government with parties that would deeply oppose many of the elements in the road map’s timetable. Sharon himself and other Likud leaders also have expressed deep concerns.

The latest draft of the road map calls for three phases that would include an interim Palestinian state in parts of the West Bank and Gaza next year, and a permanent state by the end of 2005.

In the first stage, the plan calls for the appointment of a new Palestinian Authority Cabinet and the creation of a prime minister’s post to dilute the power of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

It also demands that Israel withdraw troops from all areas occupied since the Palestinian intifada began in September 2000, and to freeze all settlement activity. It would also require the dismantling of any settlement outposts created since the Sharon government took office in March 2001.

Critics say the road map differs from President Bush’s June 24 speech, in which he called for alternative Palestinian leadership and annunciated several conditions before the creation of a Palestinian state, including fighting terrorism and ending incitement.

There is concern in some Jewish and political quarters that the White House is moving away from its conditions and leaning toward the road map’s timetable, something Bush administration officials have denied.

“It’s perfectly clear that the majority of the Quartet is not that concerned about Israel, to put it mildly,” said Jeane Kirkpatrick, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

“I think they should not be permitted to take over negotiations,” said the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

For their part, peace activists seem resigned to the fact that the road map is headed nowhere for now.

“I think the people who are very familiar with this stuff seem to be saying, after the elections, the prospect for the road map being unfolded and implemented are not quite good,” said Lewis Roth, assistant executive director of Americans for Peace Now.

And on the right, the Zionist Organization of America has taken out ads in Jewish newspapers, as well as the Weekly Standard magazine and The New York Times, rejecting the idea of a Palestinian state altogether.

The ads have been signed by numerous conservative leaders, including Kirkpatrick and two former presidential contenders, Pat Robertson, chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network, and Gary Bauer, president of American Values.

“I’m highly dubious of a Palestinian state at the current time contributing in any way to peace in the region or Israel’s national security,” said Bauer, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000.

“The plan that the president outlined in his speech, if followed to the tea, would lessen some of the risk, but it’s not being followed.”

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