A Road Map to Nowhere
Or: Much Ado About Nothing
This could have been an important
document, I F –
I F all the parties really wanted to achieve a fair compromise. I F
Sharon and Co. were really prepared to give back the occupied
territories and dismantle
I F the Americans were willing to exert serious pressure on Israel.
I F there were a president in Washington like Dwight Eisenhower,
who did not give a damn
about Jewish votes and donations.
I F George Bush were convinced that the Road Map
serves his interests, instead of being a bone to throw to his
I F Tony Blair thought that it serves his interests, instead
of being a crumb to throw to his domestic rivals.
I F the United Nations had any real power.
I F Europe had any real power.
I F Russia had any real power.
I F my grandmother had wheels.
All these Ifs belong to an imaginary world. Therefore,
nothing will come from all the talking about this document.
The embryo is dead in the womb of its mother, the Quartet.
In spite of this, let's try to treat the matter in all
seriousness. Is this a good document? Could it be helpful, if
all the Ifs were realistic?
In order to answer this seriously, one has to distinguish
between the declared objectives and the road that is
supposed to lead to them.
The objectives are very positive. They are identical with
the aims of the Israeli peace movement: an end to the
occupation, the establishment of the independent State of
Palestine side-by-side with the State of Israel, Israeli-
Palestinian and Israeli-Syrian peace, the integration of Israel
in the region.
In this respect, the Road Map goes further than the Oslo
agreement. In the Oslo "Declaration of Principles" there was
a giant hole: it did not spell out what was to come after the
long interim stages. Without a clear final aim, the interim
stages had no clear purpose. Therefore the Oslo process
died with Yitzhaq Rabin.
The Road Map confirms that there now exists a
worldwide consensus about these objectives. This fact will
remain even if nothing comes out of it. Those of us who
remember that only 35 years ago there were hardly a
handful of people in the world who believed in this vision
can draw profound satisfaction from this Road Map. It
shows that we have won the struggle for world public
But let's not exaggerate: in this document, too, there is a
gaping hole in the definition of the aims. It does not say what
the borders of the future Palestinian State should be, neither
explicitly nor implicitly. The Green Line is not even
mentioned. That by itself is enough to invalidate the whole
structure. Ariel Sharon talks about a Palestinian state in 40%
of the "territories" – equivalent to less than 9% of Palestine
under the British Mandate. Does anyone believe that this will
When we pass from poetry to prose, from the
mountaintop of the aims to the road that is supposed to get
us there, the warning signs become more and more
frequent. This is a perilous road with many curves and
obstacles. Even a very brave athlete would shudder at the
thought of having to run this course.
The road is divided into phases. In every phase the
parties must fulfil certain obligations. At the end of each
phase the Quartet must decide whether the obligations have
been completely fulfilled, before entering the next one. At the
end, the hoped-for peace will come, God willing.
Even if all the parties were imbued with goodwill, it would
be extremely difficult. When David Lloyd-George, as British
Prime Minister, decided to end the British occupation of
Ireland, he observed that one cannot cross an abyss in two
jumps. The initiators of the Road Map propose, in effect, to
cross the Israeli-Palestinian abyss in many small hops.
First question: who is this "Quartet" that has to decide at
every point whether the two parties have fulfilled their
obligations, and a new phase can be entered?
At first glance, there is a balance between the four
players: the United Nations, the United States, Europe and
Russia. It is rather like a commercial arbitration: each side
appoints one arbitrator, and the two arbitrators together
choose a third one. Judgement is reached by majority
decision and is binding on both parties.
This could work. The United States are close to Israel,
Europe and Russia are acceptable to the Palestinians. The
UN representative would have the casting vote.
Not at all. According to the document, the Quartet must
take all decisions unanimously. The Americans have a veto,
which means that Sharon has a veto. Without his
agreement, nothing can be decided. Need more be said?
Second question: When will it end?
Well, there is no clear-cut timetable for passing from one
phase to the next. The document vaguely mentions several
vague dates, but they are difficult to take seriously. The first
phase should have started in October, 2002, and come to a
close in May 2003. In the real world, the Map will be shown to
the Israelis and the Palestinians for the first time in May, and
only then will the serious haggling begin. Nobody can
foresee when the implementation of the first phase will
actually begin. And in the meantime…
It should be remembered: in the Oslo agreements many
dates were fixed, and almost all of them were missed
(generally by the Israeli side). As the good Rabin declared:
"There are no sacred dates."
Third question: Is there any kind of balance between the
obligations on the two parties? The answer must be "no".
In the first phase, the Palestinians must stop the armed
Intifada, establish close security cooperation with the
Israelis and recognize Israel's right to exist in peace and
security. They must also appoint an "empowered" Prime
Minister (meaning, in effect, the neutralization of the elected
president, Yasser Arafat) and start the drafting of a
constitution that will meet with the approval of the Quartet.
What must Israel do at the same time? It must enable
Palestinian officials (note: officials. This does not apply to
the rest of the population) to move from place to place,
improve the humanitarian situation, stop attacks on civilians
and the demolition of homes and pay the Palestinians the
money due to them. Also, it will dismantle "settlement
outposts" erected since Sharon came to power, in violation
of the government's guidelines. Who will decide to whom
this applies? There is also no mention of freezing settlement
activity in this phase.
Does anyone believe that Prime Minister Abu Mazen
could put an end to Hamas and Jihad attacks without any
political quid pro quo at all, and while the settlements keep
After this phase, the Palestinians must reform their
institutions, create a constitution "based on strong
parliamentary democracy" (they will not be allowed to have
an American presidential system, for fear of Arafat retaining
some powers). Only then, "as comprehensive security
performance moves forward", the Israeli army will "withdraw
progressively from areas occupied since September 28,
2000". Not immediately, not in one withdrawal, but bit by bit,
"progressively". Not from areas B and C, but only from area
A. They will be where they were before the present Intifada.
(There is an old Jewish joke about a family that complains
about being crowded together in one room. The rabbi
advises them to bring in a goat, too. Later, when the family
complains that life has become intolerable, the rabbi tells
them to take the goat out again. Suddenly they feel that they
have a lot of space. This time the Israeli army is told to
remove the goat, but the Palestinians are told to remove
father and mother.)
After all this, the next phase will start; the Palestinians will
adopt their constitution and hold free elections, the Egyptians and
Jordanians will send their ambassadors back to Israel and the Israeli
government will, at last, freeze settlement activity.
The next phase will focus on the "possible" creation of an
independent Palestinian state with "provisional borders".
So, long after all attacks have been stopped, there will be an
"option" of creating a Palestinian state in Area A, a tiny part
of what used to be Palestine. According to the Roadmap,
this should happen by the end of 2003, but it is clear that, if
at all, this will come about much later. It is also stated that
"further action on settlements" will be a part of the process.
What does this mean? Not the dismantling of a single
settlement, not even the most remote and isolated one.
After all this comes about, the Quartet will decide (again:
unanimously - only with the agreement of the Americans)
that the time has come for negotiations aimed at a
"permanent status agreement", hopefully in 2005, including
discussion of items such as borders, Jerusalem, refugees
and settlements. If Sharon or his successor want it, there
will be an agreement. In not, then not.
The truth is, in this whole document there is not one word
that Sharon could not accept. After all, with the help of Bush
he can torpedo any step at any time.
To sum up: Much Ado about Nothing. As evidenced by
the fact that neither Sharon nor the settlers are upset.