Another road map to nowhere

The new US “road map” to peace in the Middle East presented by US Assistant Secretary of State William J. Burns is nothing but a placebo for the Palestinians and the world community amidst war talk and sabre-rattling in Washington, DC. The new plan is not an adequate response to Palestinian and international demands that Israel immediately end the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. It may also be an attempt to justify the Bush Administration’s planned road trip to/through Iraq.

Doctors often prescribe placebos to patients whom they suspect are suffering from psychosomatic ailments in hopes that the patient will think the “medicine” contains an active ingredient that can cure his or her ailments. It’s all about the power of positive thinking.

Such remedies may have worked, though temporarily, during the years of the Oslo Peace Accords, but the last two years of bloodletting, and the considerable physical damage done to Palestinian bodies, properties, infrastructure, and rights proves that this is not a case of psychosomatic illness. It’s a deadly and chronic disease requiring a serious—and immediate—cure.

The draft details of the new US “road map” thus far made public are so bizarre that one can only wonder why it is being presented at all. The US plan makes no mention of dismantling the illegal settlements (it only speaks of recently established “outposts”), and will leave in place three Palestinian West Bank cantons or bantustans (aside from the Gaza Strip) surrounded by Israeli troops, leaving Israel in complete control of all roads and highways.

In fact, there is nothing new about the “road map” (if it can even be called that). It is essentially a revival, with several insignificant changes, of the failed Tenet, Zinni and Mitchell Plans of the last 22 months. The issue of Jerusalem and any discussion of the right of return of Palestinian refugees is delayed until a future, unspecified, stage.

The plan gives more attention to what words and phrases Palestinians must “reiterate,” and how Palestinians must re-elect and restructure their internal political life than it does to the gross and blatant violations of international law and UN resolutions that Israel has been perpetrating on a daily basis for over 35 years now. This “road map” is a step backward to the pre-Madrid, pre-Oslo period. It pretends that nothing has happened in the past 10 years, let alone the last two years.

The US “road map” reduces the just Palestinian struggle for self-determination and independence to a minor matter whose outcome is to be decided by a self-appointed set of mediators known as the “Quartet” — the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia. The “road map” ignores the fact that the resolution of the Palestinian issue is deeply embedded in international law and human rights covenants that already prescribe a clear remedy to the conflict – the prompt cessasion of Israeli military occupation.

Does the US believe that “might is right,” and that after Israel has battered the Palestinians for 24 consecutive months, the Palestinians will simply accept less than what is rightly due to them according to the law? Is Palestinian blood so cheap? Can the US be serious in demanding Palestinian Legislative Council elections while Israel is still imprisoning members of that council? Does the US even know that the Palestinians, unlike the Israelis, have a viable constitution?

The principles of a possible agreement between Israelis and Palestinians have already been sketched out in numerous UN resolutions (194, 242, 338, and 1397, among others). These resolutions continue to enjoy the full support of the world community, including the historic official policies of the US and UK. Such an internationally legitimate approach should remain the basis, with some mutually agreed upon minor changes, for any initiative in the area—or rather, any initiative with a chance of success.

A truly bold and serious approach would demand, among other items, an Israeli retreat to the 1967 borders, the unqualified dismantling of illegal settlements (which applies to all settlements in the Gaza Strip and all settlements East of the 1967 Green Line in the West Bank), honest and creative discussion concerning the refugees’ right of return, and relinquishing control over East Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority or the de facto State of Palestine. All of these are issues that must be dealt with at the first stage, and not in the form of a “road map” that ignores the basic issues and postpones, as Oslo did, pressing questions of justice to sometime much later.

What is needed now is not a placebo, but a shot of pure political adrenaline. What is needed is not a warmed over “road map” that lacks a destination and has little chance of success. Placebos, Mr. Bush and Mr. Burns, would work only if the patients were simply imagining they have been under military occupation for 35 years. One would have to be deaf, dumb, and blind not to recognize this “road map” for what is: a pathetic attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the international community.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Burns, your strategic ally in the Middle East has become your strategic liability. It is terrorizing an entire civilian population. Its behavior leads people of common sense and good will across the world to ask troubling questions about American intentions and official hypocrisy. The time has come to abruptly end the occupation and not invest more taxpayer dollars traveling on a road to nowhere.

Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American businessman living in the besieged Palestinian City of Al-Bireh in the West Bank, and can be reached at Dr. Michael Dahan is an Israeli-American political scientist living in Jerusalem, and can be reached at