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WHAT WE THINK
A road map that leads nowhere

May 9, 2003 | Page 3

THE LONG-awaited "road map" to Middle East peace was published last week--and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is smiling.

Why would Israel's hawkish leader--who opposed the Oslo peace process, who was the architect of the program to erect Jewish-only settlements in the Occupied Territories, who has spent his career trying to deal a death blow to the Palestinian struggle for self-determination--now smile at the prospect of peace?

The answer has to do with the details of the road map, as well as the general climate in which negotiations are to take place. The road map--drawn up by the U.S., European Union, Russia and the United Nations--calls for establishing a Palestinian state by 2005, preceded by three "trust-building" phases. But the plan is designed to fail.

Under the first phase, for example, Israel is only required to dismantle settlements established since March 2001 and freeze new building--while Palestinians must declare an "unconditional cease-fire to end armed activity and all acts of violence against Israelis everywhere." This means that Palestinians would be in violation if they resisted Israeli army operations to carry out a house demolition in the Occupied Territories.

In other words, the road map calls on Palestinians to surrender unconditionally--and renounce their right to resist occupation. Like Oslo, this latest "peace" proposal requires Palestinians to make all the concessions before there is any agreement to grant the basic conditions necessary for a viable Palestinian state--the removal of Israeli settlements and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to land stolen from them.

This puts Sharon in the driver's seat. By carrying out a targeted assassination against a suspected Palestinian militant--as he did on the eve of the road map's release--he can provoke retaliation, which can then be the pretext for scuttling the road map. "Sharon will do everything he can to prevent the road map from proceeding to the next stage," said Akiva Eldar, a columnist for Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper. "Whenever one can see a light at the end of the tunnel, he makes sure to turn it off."

But there's another reason for Sharon's glee--the U.S. victory over Iraq. "The message that [Israeli leaders] are getting now," said Eldar, "is that the Rumsfeld-Richard Perle school of thought is now in charge--people who were against the Oslo peace process, people who don't trust the Palestinians."

The Bush administration may have "visions" of a Palestinian state, but not one that will be truly independent of Israel. And any future state would only be allowed to exist in the context of a Middle East remade to suit U.S. interests.

As Washington's most important ally in the region, Israel has nothing to fear and everything to gain from the road map. For the Palestinians, the road map--like the blitzkrieg of Iraq--is a warning: Do what the U.S. says, or you could be next.

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