May 18, 2003 | National Review Online

Road Rage

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was to meet with President Bush on Tuesday to take a hard look at the “roadmap” to Middle East peace, to decide if it's really possible to get there from here. But after another attack over the weekend – a Hamas terrorist wearing a yarmulke and a prayer shawl blew up a bus – Sharon postponed the trip.

The roadmap is based on President Bush's June 24th 2002 speech on the Middle East – in the same sense that The Great Gatsby starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow was based on the book by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The president's speech was a landmark – the first real change in US Middle East policy in decades. In essence, it said to the Palestinians: “You can have terrorism or you can have a state. But you can't have both.”

Mr. Bush's speech also was an attempt to integrate American peace efforts with the post-9/11 Bush Doctrine. That doctrine extends a welcoming hand to moderate Muslims who choose to join the Free world; it offers a mailed fist to extremists who choose to wage a terrorist war against America and its allies.

The speech's transformation into the roadmap fell short partly because it was prepared by the “Quartet,” which brings in as America's partners the United Nations, the European Union and Russia. The problem is that the U.N., the EU, and Russia do not share the president's vision or subscribe to the Bush Doctrine – as we learned, painfully, in the days leading up to the liberation of Iraq.

In addition, the U.S. contribution to the roadmap was led by the same long-serving State Department officials who constructed the Oslo Accords and who still appear to believe that the Oslo approach (essentially, the belief that the promise of a Palestinian state will be sufficient incentive to end Palestinian terrorism ) is superior to anything President Bush could possibly imagine. Deeply ingrained within the culture of the State Department is the conviction that it would be wasteful to discard a policy just because it has failed (17,000 terrorist attacks including 251 suicide bombings since Oslo) or just because it does not happen to represent the views of the temporary occupant of the Oval Office.

As now drawn, the roadmap contains two major flaws, one in the text, one a matter of interpretation.

Start with the second: The roadmap's first requirement is that the Palestinians “immediately undertake an unconditional cessation of violence.” That obviously hasn't happened – this week's bombing being just the latest examples. Mahmoud Abbas, the new Palestinian Authority prime minister, has so far made no effort to challenge such terrorist groups as Hamas or even to rein in such terrorist groups as the al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, Fatah, and Tanzim – groups that, theoretically, report to him.

You might expect Abbas's refusal even to try to stop terrorism to be cited as the reason the roadmap has hit a road block. But the sophisticated diplomats and the sophisticated reporters who cover them instead blame Mr. Sharon. That's because they think everyone should be sophisticated enough to recognize that demands for “an unconditional cessation of violence” on the Palestinian side are unrealistic, especially while Yasser Arafat remains in command, which he does, especially while Arafat is still encouraging terrorism, which he is.

So, they figure, the sophisticated solution is to ignore that and instead pressure the Israelis to make concessions in the hope that will somehow jump-start the “peace process.” In their view, Mr. Sharon's reluctance to go along with this approach proves once again that he's a “hard-liner.”

There's also the curious fact that many sophisticated types don't regard terrorism directed against Israelis the way they regard terrorism directed against other victims. They may not even believe that slaughtering Israeli civilians is terrorism. For proof of that, you need go no further than the pages of the New York Times. As has noted, a Times special section on May 15 listed terrorist attacks around the world – from Saudi Arabia to Chechnya to the Philippines. Conspicuously absent from the “complete coverage” were any mentions of terrorist attacks in Israel. (It's not just under Jayson Blair's byline where you can read distortions of reality.)

The second flaw in the roadmap is that it leaves the question of “refugees” to the third phase of the process. That may sound like small potatoes but what it really means is that Palestinians can say publicly that they recognize Israel's right to exist – but with a wink and a nudge. As Abbas made clear in his inaugural speech, he intends to demand that Palestinians who left Israel in 1948 – when Israel was invaded by five Arab neighbors – should have the right to return to Israel (not just to the West Bank and Gaza), along with their children and grandchildren. Were that to happen, it would mean the destruction of Israel by demographic means. Israelis would become a minority in their own country; in other words Israel would cease to be Israel.

All this does not necessarily imply that the roadmap has become road kill. It does imply that everyone – the U.N., the EU, Russia, the State Department, even the Palestinians – needs to finally accept that post-9/11 a new Palestinian state can not be born as a terrorist state. It does imply that the Palestinians need to accept the fact that Arafat's dream of fatah, the conquest of Israel, has failed, and that the best deal the Palestinians can now get will be something like the deal Arafat turned down in 2000.

And it implies one more thing that should have been obvious all along: A roadmap is of little value until and unless the travelers agree on the destination.

Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a think tank on terrorism, and an NRO contributor.



Palestinian Politics