Steve Rosen and Matt Duss, together at last


Steve Rosen, AIPAC’s former foreign policy honcho, and Matt Duss, blogger for the Center for American Progress, actually agree on the utility of the Road Map, President George W. Bush’s outline of how to get to a peace agreement.

For different reasons, naturally. At Foreign Policy, Steve says the Road Map is a useful way for the Obama administration to get around Palestinian reluctance to commit to interim agreements, at a time that Benjamin Netanyahu is leery of permanent status talks. This is because the Palestinians — all sides, in fact — are already committed to the Road Map:

The Roadmap that the Palestinians accepted is the only document providing a pathway to a Palestinian state ever accepted by all the parties involved in Middle East peace negotiations. It was issued by the Quartet, consisting of the United States, the European Union, Russia, and the secretary-general of the United Nations on April 30, 2003. Then it was endorsed unanimously by the U.N. Security Council (including Syria!) in Resolution 1515 on Nov. 20, 2003.  It was endorsed again by the Quartet on March 19, 2010. It was accepted "without any reservations" by Abbas at the Middle East peace summit in Aqaba, Jordan on June 4, 2003. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon accepted it on May 23, 2003, and Sharon’s government, by a majority vote, accepted it on May 25, 2003. Both sides are bound by the Roadmap, and it does not require a fresh endorsement by either. It is one of the signed written commitments of the Palestinian government on which the peace process is based today.

Matt agrees, but because of the reason Steve artfully skates over in the paragraph above: Abbas indeed accepted the Road Map "without any reservations," but Ariel Sharon did not. Israel’s Cabinet attached a list of reservations exempting itself from the Road Map’s settlement freeze provisions. (No one else recognized these reservations, although a year later, the Bush administration offered qualified support for "natural growth" in settlements.)

Bring on the Road Map, Matt tells Steve — including the settlement freeze. He quotes his colleague, Moran Banai:

The whole concept upon which they began their work was, everyone has obligations under the Road Map, everyone committed to it, so everyone should live up to it. That includes Israel’s obligation under the Road Map, to stop building settlements. The Road Map cited the Sharm el-Sheikh committee’s report with regards to this issue, which called for a freeze on all settlement construction, including natural growth. It comes back to what the administration did at first, asking everyone to live up their commitments, which the Palestinians to a great extent have done.

The Israelis, when they accepted the Road Map, did so with reservations, and a main one was, we won’t do anything until the Palestinians get security under control and meet their obligations. Considering the progress that the Palestinians have made on their security forces and on institution-building, the Palestinians have essentially mooted this objection.

What I find interesting in this back and forth is how Steve uses the Road Map as a means of critiquing what he says has been Obama’s overweening ambition in the Middle East.

First, because although the Road Map was indeed an interim plan, it was due to mature in 2005. Admittedly, that’s not as ambitious than the one year proposal that the Obama administration announced today — but the difference isn’t exactly overwhelming. 

Secondly, here’s how he concludes:

Will Obama take the advice of the pressure-on-Israel enthusiasts who twice led him into the cul-de-sac of the "freeze on natural growth" of settlements? If he does, we are headed for another nasty squall with no constructive outcome. He has another choice, staring right at him in the Roadmap. Does the Roadmap’s provenance in the hated Bush administration make it so repulsive to this administration that miss the opportunity Bush left him?

Now I covered "Anything But Clinton," the policy that governed the Bush administration’s first couple of years (it waned eventually.) And although there certainly are pockets of "Anything But Bush" in this administration — I’d single out the Justice Department as one redoubt — they pale next to the upheaval of the early Bush years.

And, for better or worse, they do not crop up in foreign policy. In the Middle East, with the exception of the public spat over settlements (a big "exception," I know), there has been remarkable consistency between this administration and the last two years of the Bush administration — what’s more, for the most part, you’ll hear that confirmed by officials in both administrations.

Particularly, with the Road Map. A search of "Israel" and "Road Map" on the White House website coughs up two pages of positive references to the plan.

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