The world press on the Mideast road map

Commentary from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Chile, Indonesia and Pakistan.

Published May 9, 2003 8:54PM (EDT)

Israel, Yoel Esteron in Haaretz

They're shooting at it; they're trying to blow it up with explosive belts; from the minute it was published, there have been Israelis and Palestinians trying to kill the road map. We're on the map, but we aren't moving a millimeter. Instead of moving, we're using microscopes to find its flaws.

Indeed, anyone who reads the full text of the road map... finds the hidden mines without difficulty. For example, the determination that the agreement will be based on, among other things, the Saudi crown prince's initiative, which...includes a mention...of United Nations Resolution 194, which according to the Arab interpretation is the mother of legality for the "right of return." ...There's no mention of 194 in Phase III. The solution to the refugee problem will be "agreed, just, fair and realistic." Just and fair so the Palestinians will be pleased; agreed and realistic, to calm the Israelis. But when the right of return is under discussion, it's well-known the Israelis are not easy to calm down....

It is not an uplifting text, the wings of history do not beat through its pages, and there's nothing holy about its writ. That's its strength: It's the text of an irritated official, as poetic as the technical instructions for putting together a do-it-yourself piece of furniture. It says, "Progress into Phase II will be based upon the consensus judgment of the Quartet of whether conditions are appropriate to proceed, taking into account the performance of both parties." ...

The problem is not the map, but what isn't in the map. The map can help people who want to use it...

The Sharon government and the new Palestinian government headed by Abu Mazen appear to be either unwilling or incapable - or both - of fulfilling the hope that is so well-hidden in the dry text. ...

So, we're on the map, but as always, stuck with ourselves. We - Israelis and Palestinians - are in a death clutch, tired and wounded and numb. Therefore, those Israelis and Palestinians who want to live here must wake up from their comas and push their wayward leaders to do the right thing. To struggle using all democratic means; to go into the streets, if necessary; to shove out of the way all those who try to obstruct it. Ask not what peace can do for you; ask what you can do for making peace.

United Arab Emirates, Omar Dajani in the Gulf News

Even though all parties are studiously avoiding associating new efforts with the process that flowed from the Oslo peace accords Israeli and Palestinian leaders signed in 1993, Palestinians will judge the roadmap, and any subsequent initiative, based on their experience during the past 10 years.

The lessons from those years, too painfully learnt to be ignored, bear revisiting. First, no amount of peace education or high-minded rhetoric about reconciliation will compensate for a failure to improve the conditions in which Palestinians are living.

The issue is not economic aid or job creation; it is freedom of movement. The majority of Palestinians in the West Bank have been barred from leaving their towns and villages for much of the past two years and even before the Intifada, they faced arbitrary and often humiliating treatment at military checkpoints...

According to one popular joke, three Palestinian men are held at a military checkpoint.

When the soldier asks the first one where he is from, he responds, "Nablus", and the soldier orders him to stand to the side and hold his shirt up. The second one responds, "Jenin", and is also ordered to stand to the side with his shirt up. The third one responds, "Ramallah", to which the soldier says: "Here, hold my gun while I question these two."

As the U.S. and its fellow Quartet members begin talks with Israel and the Palestinian leadership about the implementation of the roadmap, they will have to strike a balance between the need to achieve freedom of movement for Palestinians across the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the need for effective security solutions in the places -- and at the times -- of most imminent threat...

Palestinians and Israelis alike will judge whatever new process unfolds solely by the other side's compliance with its obligations. If the road map is to succeed, they should be given the opportunity to do precisely that.

A cold assessment of each side's progress by objective third parties will go much further towards building mutual confidence than a loosely articulated vision of the future or a friendly pat on the back.

It is difficult to predict what the next era of Palestinian-Israeli relations will bring. The hopefulness that animated the peace process during the Oslo years has given way to a tired sobriety. But that in itself may be just what the next peace process requires.

Saudi Arabia, Mohammad T. Al-Rasheed in the Arab News

The "Road Map" for Middle East peace has been handed to the concerned parties. I haven't been privy to its details, but I can assure you that it did not take into consideration the nature of our roads around here.

It probably is a sanitized version of Interstate 70 crossing the continental United States from east to west. Unfortunately, our roads here are dusty and ancient. They are made for mules and donkeys and not for vehicles that shut the world out in an air-conditioned space filled with surround music. It is true that some venerable feet have kicked up dust on these roads over the ages, but Sharon and Arafat are not among them. Those two are as alien as the creatures of Mary Shelley's nightmares.

...Little has changed. The Middle East, yet again, proves its ability to swallow everything and everyone and continue in its old ways. The fun is over and when the President is finished with his victory tours and people are simply saturated with parades and speeches from aircraft carriers, the reality of the Middle East will rise again as if nothing has changed. This is the enigmatic nature of this place. And this is what the Administration does not understand but will soon find out...

The Middle East, for some odd reason that has baffled academics let alone politicians, does not subscribe to political norms, no matter where the origins of such norms are. This is not necessarily good or bad. It simply is a reality. Syria, for example, is the only place on earth that had three coup d'etats in one day. If there is a lesson to be learned in this, it is the fact that fame and glory can be achieved swiftly; and just as swiftly, they can be lost.

Chile, editorial in El Mercurio

With the end of the military phase of the war in Iraq ... comes an urgency regarding the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. The U.S. administration has committed to supporting efforts to find a solution to this long and bloody conflict...

Perhaps the "road map" is not panacea for all Israeli and Palestinian exigencies, but it's a plan that aims to assuage deeply rooted fears, to lay the foundation for a peaceful coexistence and to offer both peoples the opportunity to achieve their objectives a step at a time, giving rise to hope for a final solution in a relatively short time period. The obstacles will be great. The violence of [last] week demonstrated that there are those on both sides who seek to undermine any conciliatory intentions, because the peace process diminishes the power they have attained as a result of terrorism.

It has been said that the United States, with its uncontestable power, must exercise its leadership not only in war, as in the case of Iraq, but also in peace, forcing the contentious parties, in this case the Jews and the Palestinians, to fulfill the obligations that peaceful coexistence requires of them. September 11, 2001, rocked the political agenda of George Bush to the core and transformed him, a president with an isolationist worldview, into a global leader, a new role that he embraced with a messianic passion. The Arab-Israeli conflict gives him the opportunity to fulfill part of his ambitious project to change the face of the Middle East, to use regime change in Iraq like a mirror that can reflect democracy across the entire region.

It will be difficult to realize this goal in a brief time period, but if during his administration [Bush] can achieve a state of peaceful coexistence for the Jews and the Palestinians within two viable states, with secure borders, he will have left behind an important legacy, one that could be the seeds of a prosperous stability for the region.

Indonesia, editorial in the Jakarta Post

With the war in Iraq practically over, the world is again turning its attention to the conflict in the Middle East, one that has gone unresolved for more than half a century, between the Palestinian people and the Israeli government, and has caused the loss of thousands of innocent lives on both sides.

The proposal ... envisages the establishment of an independent and democratic Palestinian state by 2005 and calls for the belligerent parties to implement consistently the peace plan, in that Israel must immediately freeze all its ambitious settlement expansion and Palestinians cease attacks on the Israeli people and end all incitement to violence.

The Palestinians, represented by [Prime Minister Mahmoud] Abbas, have demonstrated their goodwill by accepting the road map and pledging to implement it faithfully...

Such goodwill obviously deserves similar reciprocity from the Israeli side. If the Jewish state truly wants to live peacefully and securely with its neighbors in the region, it cannot help but return all Arab lands it occupied in 1967, an issue also stipulated in the "road map" proposal and which is also in line with UN Security Council Resolutions 242, 338 and 1397.

Now that the ball is in the court of the Israeli government, the Jewish state should not demonstrate any reluctance to accept the quartet's peace proposal, which might help solve the Middle East problem comprehensively so that the two peoples and nations can coexist peacefully.

As for the U.S., the key supporter of Israel, it has to abandon its double standards regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so as to convince the world community that, as a superpower that has taken the initiative in the peace proposal, it has drawn a realistically fair policy that does not treat the Palestinians as the "children of a lesser god".

Although the concrete result of the proposal has yet to be seen, it nevertheless sparks a ray of hope for a peaceful solution in the troubled region.

Pakistan, Iffat Idris Malik in Dawn

One would like to feel optimism and hope on reading of the new 'roadmap to peace' in the Middle East ... But sadly, when one looks at the motivations of the various parties involved, and at the many points left unmarked along the roadmap, the predominant feeling is not optimism but deep pessimism. This is a roadmap to nowhere.

Two parties -- Israel and Palestine -- are to journey along the road marked out in the map, guided by the United States. Three travellers in all, of whom two are insincere: they do not wish to end up at the destination in the map. The Israelis have quite different destination in mind, while the Americans have about as much enthusiasm for their job of guide as conscripts forced to join an army ... According to the roadmap guidelines, Israelis and Palestinians are supposed to walk along it side by side. Concessions and implementation by the Palestinians -- ending violence -- are to be matched by simultaneous Israeli implementation -- rollback of post-2000 settlements. But Ariel Sharon is insisting that 'the terror' must end before Israel takes a step -- meaning Israel will follow behind the Palestinians. The inherent risk for the Palestinians in this -- that they will take an implementation step and the Israelis will not follow suit -- is obvious.

This is where the duty of the guide comes in: it is up to America to insist that both its charges walk side by side. Will George Bush do this? Unlikely. The American president's extreme reluctance to embark on the journey towards Middle East peace was apparent to all from the moment he assumed office. The only reason he has finally come up with a roadmap is to appease his coalition allies (notably Tony Blair) in the war against Iraq (as well as to perpetuate the farce that American military action in Iraq will have beneficial consequences for the whole region)...

And what of the Palestinians? Some elements in the Palestinian leadership have welcomed the roadmap (albeit with reservations about Israel's willingness to follow it). But many others have rejected it...

Three parties journeying along a road: one trying to veer off somewhere else, the other fighting amongst themselves, and a guide all too ready to shirk his duties. Will they reach the destination marked on their map? Fat chance.

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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