Burning Issues No. 21: Is the road map still relevant?

olmert abbas close 298.8 (photo credit: AP [file])
olmert abbas close 298.8
(photo credit: AP [file])
Burning Issues brings our best opinion writers to one podium, where they respond, in brief and in real time, to a question about one of the hottest news topics on the agenda. A link to the writer's most recent column appears after each post. Burning Issues 1-20: Last three: Barak's comeback, 2007 forecast, Iran and Russia.
Question #20
After reiterating their support of the road map plan, Secretary Rice and FM Livni repeatedly stressed the need for a 'political horizon' during their meeting in Jerusalem earlier this week. As Livni put it, there is a "need to explore and to find a way to promote a process based on two pillars. One, of course, is the political horizon for the Palestinians, and the other is giving Israelis security. This is going to be part of any process." Do you believe the road map is still relevant? Is there a need for a new plan? Contributions by Jonathan Tobin, Daniel Pipes, Isi Leibler, Calev Ben-David, Larry Derfner, Stewart Weiss, Michael Freund and MJ Rosenberg. Larry Derfner: Nobody ever believed in the road map except maybe Bush, who seems able to talk himself into believing anything that is in his interest to believe. I think Rice is too rational to have ever thought the road map had a chance, but, like everyone else on the Bush administration's payroll, along with all the others who have to stay on Bush's good side - such as Israeli and Palestinian Authority leaders - she has to pretend publicly that the road map has some connection to reality in the Middle East. In fact, the road map was never anything more than a fancy-wrapped empty package that Bush commissioned to try to make it look like he was actually doing something to promote peace in the Middle East - unless, again, he is so good at believing what he needs to believe that he actually convinced himself it had substance and could work. But the simple, obvious, known-to-all truth is that Abbas is incapable of meeting the basic road map requirement of stopping Palestinian violence, while Israel is unwilling to meet the basic road map requirement of stopping settlement expansion and tearing down outposts. That's been the story since the road map was unveiled nearly four years ago. It was dead on arrival. But Bush needed to do a little PR exercise, so all the people whose jobs require them to placate Bush have to express confidence in the road map. Inside, they're either laughing or groaning. The very term "road map" has long been a cynical laugh line. It is to peace proposals what the Edsel was to automobiles. And no, we don't need a new plan; the old one will serve well enough to provide make-work for diplomats in this diplomacy-proof period in the Middle East. Rattling the Cage: Chapperim, macherim, and shtinkerim Stewart Weiss: The "road Map," alas, is a highway to Nowhere. Though all the sides still cling in principle to the concept, this once highly-touted idea has never led to any substantial progress on the path to peace, let alone a final settlement of the Israel-Palestinian issue. There are two basic reasons why this is so: The first, perhaps most crucial, stipulation of the Road Map was that the Palestinians would reign in the violence by disarming the terrorist thugs who control Gaza's streets, and consolidate their security apparatus into one entity, answerable only to the President. Not even a semblance of this primary condition has been met. Quite the opposite: Armed gangs roam the Authority, flaunting their independence and murdering Palestinians and Israelis alike. President Abbas - using the pretext of avoiding civil war as a cover for his timidity and impotence - flatly refuses to take any action whatsoever against these terrorists. He arrests no one, he confiscates no weapons; his only appeal is for the various gangs to stop shooting at each other and "aim their weapons at the occupiers" (i.e. any Jew they can get in their sights). Secondly, the Road Map provides no resolution for the most difficult and decisive issues of the overall conflict: The status of Jerusalem, the "right of return," and the commitment of the Palestinians to live in peaceful co-existence with a Jewish State that is a full-fledged member of the Middle Eastern community. Just forcing a truce between the parties - the only foreseeable destination of the Road Map - will only delay further bloodshed; not bring lasting peace. Hanukka and the limits of pluralism Michael Freund: There is something deeply troubling about the ongoing obsession with the "road map" among diplomats and decision-makers. To begin with, the Palestinians have never lived up to even the most elementary of steps required of them, whether under the Oslo Accords, the Gaza-Jericho Agreement, Oslo II, the Hebron accords, or now the "road map". They have failed to stop terror against the Jewish state, and they continue to speak openly of violence as a solution. Indeed, just last Thursday, at a public rally in Ramallah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called upon his fellow Palestinians to turn their rifles against Israel. If the Palestinians are unwilling or unable to take even the basic step of abandoning terror, then why on earth would anyone want to empower them further by giving them the tools of statehood? The "road map" has failed for the simple reason that the Palestinians killed it. For the umpteenth time, they were given a clear choice between violence and reconciliation, and they chose the former. But Secretary Rice, Foreign Minister Livni, and others, seem unable to accept this basic fact, preferring instead to cling to fantasy rather than accept reality. Their continuing insistence on the relevance of the "roadmap" appears to have taken on all the elements of a psychological condition, one in which they opt to live in a state of denial. While that may prove more comforting for them, it poses a real danger to the future of the region. The time has come to scrap the "road map", and to stop counting on the Palestinians to put an end to terror. As the past decade has made abundantly clear, Israel can not, and must not, rely on other states or peoples to provide it with protection or security. Right On!: Just who exactly is a 'moderate' Arab leader? Daniel Pipes: The question implies that once upon a time, the concrete, three-phase implementation road map (as it is more fully known) was relevant. That, however, never was the case. As Yitschak Ben-Gad succinctly summed up the problem in the title of his 2004 book, it was always "the roadmap to nowhere." Or as I counseled in a February 2003 article, Israelis and Americans should hold firm against road maps that lead exactly in the wrong direction. The plan was born a bureaucratic monstrosity; of its myriad faults, grown perhaps the most fundamental was its assumption that if only the Palestinians were given just a tad more of this or that, they would finally recognize the benefits of harmonious co-existence with a Jewish state of Israel. Not to have learned by now that Palestinians have larger and more aggressive ambitions than to live side-by-side with Israel implies living in a state of denial. Due to continued Palestinian violence against Israelis, the road map to nowhere has, fortunately, not been implemented. I don't suppose it ever will be, and I sleep better in that expectation. And no, there is no need for a new plan. The Bush administration should return to its predecessors' willingness to mediate, facilitate, and fund, and drop its overly-ambitious notions of solving the Arab-Israeli conflict. As Irving Kristol memorably observed, "Whom the gods would destroy, they first tempt to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict." How the West could lose MJ Rosenberg: The road map is still relevant. But only in the sense that it is the latest incarnation of peace plans built on the foundation of UN Resolutions 242/338 and the Oslo agreements. It doesn't matter whether we call it the road map or something else. It is simply the land-for-peace concept that remains the only device to achieve security for Israel. Frankly, I don't care if the term road map is never employed again. The thing that matters is that the United States puts it weight behind Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. As has been said over and over again, we all know how this conflict will end: two states for two peoples with the Green Line serving, more or less, as the international border. The settlers will come home. Jerusalem will be shared along the lines stated by Clinton (what is Muslim will be Palestinian, what is Jewish will be Israeli). The Palestinians will accept a symbolic token return of refugees. And Israel's borders will be guaranteed by the United States and through mutually agreed upon state-of-the-art security measures. It's all over but the fighting which makes the fighting and dying so utterly tragic. The Bush administration can and should wrap a deal up during its last two years in office. Bush and Rice can do it. If they will it, it is no dream. In Washington: Much ado about nothing Calev Ben-David: There is nothing wrong with the formulation of the "road map," only with the implementation. Phase 1 of the plan explicitly calls for an end to Palestinian terrorism as a benchmark to precede any further negotiations. Not only is the current Palestinian government not taking any real steps in this direction, but Hamas has even explicitly rejected the idea in principle. There's no reason that Israel should compromise on this point; one only has to look at the example set by Spain, which recently broke off negotiations with ETA after just one bombing by the Basque terror front, in contrast to the dozens of rocket strikes and attempted terror attacks still being perpetrated by Palestinian groups. Rather then abandoning the road map, the international community has to remain firm that this primary condition must be met before any real negotiations get underway between Israel and the Palestinians, because any plan that does not take this approach to terrorism is simply a non-starter to begin with. Clearly, the political turmoil among the Palestinians has to reach some of kind of resolution before this happens, so it is pointless to introduce new "peace plans" at this stage. The best the international community can do now is to reinforce the position of the relatively moderate PA president Mahmoud Abbas, maintain its ban on direct aid to and contacts with Hamas until it renounces terror or falls from power, and stand fast to the principles that will eventually bring peace, when the conditions here are ripe for serious diplomatic steps. Snap Judgment: The Ford in our past Isi Leibler: Despite its limitations, at least the road map requires the Palestinians to uproot the terror infrastructure in advance of obliging us to make further concessions. For this alone, it would not now be an appropriate time to drop the Road Map. In fact the frequently employed concept of "moving forward", may itself be a prescription for disaster. How can we "move forward" when Mahmoud Abbas publicly calls on his people to use their weapons (including those received due to our insane largesse) against Israel? Or when Abbas refuses to consider a provisional state without the right of return of 4 million Arab refugees, because the primary objective of him and his allies is not a Palestinian state but our destruction? Or whilst Kassam rockets continue raining down on Israeli civilians in this fake, one-way truce? But we can inform the Americans that we will ease the humanitarian conditions of the Palestinians so long as the security of our citizens is not compromised. We should also tell them that if Abbas is to be our peace partner the Quartet should at least reprimand him for breaching the Road Map by acts such as inciting his people to use their weapons against Israel rather than fighting amongst themselves. We must also warn our friends that the Road Map will not oblige the IDF to wait for more Israelis to die before it takes steps to neutralize the missiles currently being launched against our civilians from Gaza. The blight of corrosive corruption Jonathan Tobin: The problem with the road map has always been the false assumption that the Palestinians were willing to settle for a "political horizon" or to give Israel "security," let alone to treat Jewish rights as being as legitimate as those of the Arabs. That Palestinian leaders are either incapable or unwilling to do this is no longer arguable. That some Jews are prepared to ignore this reality in order to stick to their ideology says more about us than it does about the mentality of Israel's supposed peace partners. The current diplomatic minuet being danced by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with both Israel and the Palestinians is not based on any real optimism in the United States. Though Washington is still committed in principle to backing PA President Mahmoud Abbas, no one with any sense really believes that he can deliver peace or security no matter how generous Israel might be in any proposed negotiation. While her desire for peace may be genuine, Rice is merely attempting to show the world that the United States still cares enough about Arab sensibilities to go through the motions of urging a new round of peace talks that she surely knows will lead nowhere. What is needed is not a new road map or different US diplomatic tactics, despite the carping of administration critics. Rather, what we need is a change in the attitudes of the Palestinians. Until their political culture changes to one that will make peace possible, all talk of road maps is nothing but moonshine. No matter how expert the drafting of your map might be, if your destination doesn't actually exist, the map will never get you there. View From America: Protestant, Catholic, Jew and Muslim