The long road to peace

    Plans for peace between Israelis and the Palestinians may seem like a dime a dozen these days. Camp David talks, Oslo accords, Mitchell and Tenet peace plans — what’s changed? When reading about the violence in the newspapers about suicide bombings in Tel Aviv and Israeli raids of the Gaza strip, it seems like little has.

    Kenrick Leung
    Guardian

    But this seeming lack of progress only requires more action: Governments must redouble their efforts to stop the violence that has resulted in more than 2,100 Palestinian and 700 Israeli deaths since September 2000 to find new paths to peace. And the seeds of change may be planted with an innovative new charter released on April 30: the so-called “”road map”” to peace between the Palestinians and Israel that provides security to the Jewish state and state boundaries to a newly created Palestine.

    The road map plan, named so by the media and involved diplomats because it lays out a three-phase process by which Palestinians and Israelis may arrive at a feasible resolution, may succeed where others have failed for many reasons.

    First and foremost, unlike other bargaining processes, the road map attempts to side-step immediate negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Past peace talks have operated on strict timetables; the road map supplements Israeli-Palestinian negotiations with observable, independent and simultaneous moves by which each side will achieve their own goals in addition to rebuilding damaged trust. By this innovation, the parties may overcome the loss of goodwill and hope to circumvent the deadlock that may occur if bilateral discussions were convened on the heels of the past 30 months of violence.

    Renewed trust of Palestinians on the part of Israelis, the key to the success of any peace plan, may be aided by the recent change in Palestinian leadership. With a new prime minister and cabinet in, new seeds of progress may be sown. In the Jerusalem Post, analyst Barry Rubin noted that the new prime minister of Palestine, Abu Mazen, may be in a better position to “”chart a more conciliatory course than Yasser Arafat.””

    Abu Mazen has already stated that former tactics of terror have undermined the Palestinian pursuit of statehood in the past two and half years; Arafat never sought to “”de-legitimize”” acts of terror against Israel. Phase one of the development hinges on an immediate cease-fire by the Palestinians, which will do much to aid the legitimacy of the Palestinians’ demands.

    Further, the road map has been developed by not only the United States but also in coordination with the European Union, Russia and the United Nations: the “”Quartet.”” While most heavily prepared by the United States, the relative multilateral development of the plan may serve to buttress the confidence of nervous Palestinians. Many fear the political imbalance, ostensibly created by the current U.S. occupation of Iraq, will generate pressure on the Palestinian Authority to submit to the demands of Israel.

    The voice of the other nations in the construction of the road map may serve as a partial counterbalance to fears that the Bush administration will not pursue the path to peace with the same vigor demonstrated to the culmination of war. British Prime Minister Tony Blair in particular, who coupled his support of the war in Iraq with this road map, has already shown his determination to keep the peace process on track.

    The plan also capitalizes on the anti-terrorism tide that has risen with greater resolve throughout the world since the Sept. 11 terror attacks. More parties today are openly vested in the fight against terrorism, which may serve to aid new leadership in cracking down on militant organizations that use terror tactics as bargaining tools. If the sentiments of Abu Mazen condemning acts of terrorism as undermining the quest for Palestinian statehood shared at the Palestine Legislative Council last week are reinforced by other Arab states, this could give the weight needed to bring an end to terrorist acts for political gain in the region.

    Finally, the road map demands concessions from both parties: Israelis must withdraw from Palestinian lands, while the Palestinian government must rein in militant organizations charged with terrorism. It also recognizes that the end result must provide for a Palestinian state. Without these key elements, no contract will be valid between the two sides. Without these key elements, it is only a matter of time before the violence begins anew.

    The phases, broadly construed, are simple. In the first phase, as previously explained, steps are taken by Palestinians to cease all terrorist attacks as well as initiate government reforms to make institutions more accountable for their actions. Institutional reforms include the drafting of a constitution and holding free, fair elections. Concurrently, Israelis are to cease the building of settlements in Palestinian territories and withdraw from areas occupied since Sept. 28, 2000. The road map calls for phase one to begin immediately and to finish within the month of May this year.

    The second phase, outlined to start in June 2003, focuses on the establishment of a provisional Palestinian state by December 2003. This provisional state is to be complete with provisional borders and the “”attributes of sovereignty.”” The Quartet pledges to work to incorporate this fledgling state into the fold of the international community, including possible U.N. membership.

    Phase three builds on these successes and seeks to finalize the process. If the Quartet judges the timing to be right and the actions required of each state to be met, then by the end of 2005, a final agreement will be reached that defines the final status of Jerusalem, the final borders between the two states and the final resolution of whether Palestinians may return to their homes in Jerusalem lands.

    However, as with any plan that seeks to resolve a complicated issue, the road map is not without its obstacles. Some critics claim the plan calls for too much, too fast. Indeed, the road map faces some big road blocks.

    The biggest problem is the most obvious: Neither side trusts the other, and in complex societies, it is difficult to move all elements through a process of change. Militant Palestinian organizations including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, groups claiming responsibility for systematic terrorism against the Israeli state, have already announced their opposition to the plan on the grounds that it gives too much to Israel. If these groups were to continue their acts of terror, they could run aground phase one, which calls for an end to the violence by the Palestinians.

    And opposition isn’t only flowing from the Palestinian camp. Jewish leaders in the Sharon government oppose the idea of a Palestinian state, much less one that asks some Israelis to abandon their settlements in Palestinian territories. In many ways, both sides feel like they are giving up too much. In a battle that has been so long and hard fought, this isn’t surprising. But if peace is to be attained, if a bargain is to be struck, both sides must cede to the other in a system of contingent exchange.

    There are also fears that the inchoate Palestinian leadership may not be the force needed to bring change. While their security forces train to root out anti-Israeli terrorist cells in the West Bank, many question whether conflicting visions for Palestine between Arafat and Abu Mazen will sideline the peace process. And the conflict is not limited to Arafat and Abu Mazen. According to Jamil Hamad, a West Bank correspondent for Time, notes that of the 24 cabinet appointments, Arafat “”had a hand in choosing 20 … so the old guard are still very strong.”” This fear that the Palestinian authority may not be united is coupled with the concern of disunity among other Arab states. If other Arab states do not aid Abu Mazen in his fight against terror, funding may continue to flow to militant groups.

    Perhaps it is naive to believe that in only a few years these two societies will overcome deeplyrooted distrust and hatred. It will certainly be difficult and demand a willingness to negotiate. However, the road map provides guidelines and an observable action process. What some term naivete, others call a hopeful step toward a more peaceful Middle East. We can hardly live with the alternative to the struggle for peace.

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