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(photo credit: GPO [file])
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is making a mistake in not explicitly endorsing the road map, with its monitored sequence of phases toward Palestinian statehood, and risks placing Israel in a situation where the Obama administration instead seeks to impose a permanent accord that would be immensely problematic for Israel, Dov Weissglas, former prime minister Ariel Sharon's bureau chief, has warned The Jerusalem Post.
Amid continued speculation that President Barack Obama is about to unveil a comprehensive Middle East peace plan, Weissglas asked: "If the Americans say there's no road map, and let's say instead they convene a peace conference in Washington in the presence of the Saudis and the Kuwaitis and the Qataris, all singing Israel's praises, to discuss final-status issues, what will Netanyahu say then?"
Had Netanyahu accepted the road map from the moment he formed his coalition, "the international community would have been reassured," Weissglas said. "The Americans would not be prodding us on the issue of the settlement freeze. The Palestinians would have resumed the negotiating process."
Unfortunately, however, Weissglas went on, Netanyahu came into office "with very negative baggage" and "had to be dragged" toward accepting the inevitable two-state vision.
"If Netanyahu has a patent for preventing Palestinian statehood," said Weissglas, "he should put the road map aside." But since the prime minister had now said he had "a vision" for Palestinian statehood, he would best serve Israel's interests by insisting that the performance-based road map path be followed.
Weissglas emphasized that the two caveats raised by Netanyahu in his landmark policy speech at Bar-Ilan University last month - that Palestine be demilitarized, and that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state - are already included in the road map's provisions, along with innumerable essential caveats to Palestinian independence that the prime minister did not mention.
Asked for examples, Weissglas reeled off a list that included matters relating to control of border crossings, the ongoing presence of Israeli defensive military facilities inside the new state, the application of international legal treaties and the question of whether Palestine could establish internal and external intelligence services.
"Is Netanyahu reducing all of Israel's concerns to just two caveats?" Weissglas asked. "Let's say Abbas, in an imaginary scenario, lifts up the phone to him and says, 'I heard your speech. Great! Let's meet tonight. I'll bring with me recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and we'll demilitarize.'... Does that mean you're ready to establish the state?"
Tel Aviv-based lawyer Weissglas, who played a central role in the formulation of the road map, stressed that it did not constitute a political program. "It contains no solutions,' he said. "It's a management plan."
And by establishing a carefully monitored sequence of phases, it would ensure that Palestine could only come to be established in a context that would not threaten Israel. Netanyahu should insist on the implementation of its "every clause and condition."
It wasn't easy for Sharon to bring to his cabinet a program "that ends, on page seven, with a Palestinian state," said Weissglas. "But what he understood - and what I'm not sure the current incumbent understands - is that a Palestinian state will rise. It will rise. If there was a stage when Israel could prevent this, and I don't know if there was, it has been missed, and it was missed between 1967 and 1980" - when Israel failed to settle the two million Jews it hoped to settle in Judea and Samaria, he said.
So long as Netanyahu did not explicitly endorse the road map, there was a danger, said Weissglas, that the Americans would be tempted to put it aside and try to leap ahead to the negotiations on a permanent accord, the third phase of the road map process - precisely as former prime minister Ehud Olmert and former president George Bush did with the Annapolis initiative. "Ehud Olmert made a mistake by skipping this sequence," said Weissglas. "To our great good fortune, [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas rejected it."
Weissglas said he was worried by the prospect of the Obama administration attempting to impose a similar leap precisely because the road map demands such far-reaching progress from the Palestinians. Regarding their phase one requirements - in fighting terrorism, establishing institutions of government, and so on - Weissglas said, "Seriously, I'm not sure Switzerland meets these conditions."
Despite suggestions that the Obama administration will unveil a grand Middle East peace plan in the coming weeks, Weissglas said he did not think the US would seek to jump to final status this month or next. "But in another year, if things in 'Palestine' are moving in a positive direction, the Americans might say, 'Netanyahu doesn't show any particular affection for the road map, so why should we?'"
The US did not want "a Palestinian state at any price tomorrow, and after that all hell breaking loose. They want the experiment to succeed. They do want coexistence. They do want stability. They want to avoid another intifada and bloodshed," said Weissglas. "But their risk assessment is far lower than ours, and their readiness to take chances is far greater than ours - understandably when you live in Pennsylvania Avenue rather than Jerusalem."
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