A Middle East Road Map to where?

After several false starts, the Middle East diplomatic Quartet (composed of the U.S., the EU, the Russian Federation and the Office of the Secretary General of the UN) finally put its Roadmap to Israeli-Palestinian peace on the table on 30 April 2003. However, although the document has received widespread international endorsement, there is also widespread scepticism about its contents, about the willingness of the parties to implement its provisions and indeed of its sponsors to maintain allegiance to them.

The scepticism is warranted. The Roadmap adheres to a gradualist and sequential logic to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, a throwback to the approach that has failed both Israelis and Palestinians in the past. Its various elements lack definition, and each step is likely to give rise to interminable disputes between the two sides. There is no enforcement mechanism, nor an indication of what is to happen if the timetable significantly slips. Even more importantly, it fails to provide a detailed, fleshed out definition of a permanent status agreement. As such, it is neither a detailed, practical blueprint for peace nor even for a cessation of hostilities.

Yet, these and other worrying realities do not necessarily condemn the Roadmap to irrelevance. It is important to understand what the Roadmap is not - but also what it can be. It should be viewed as a political document that - along with significant unilateral changes within the Palestinian and Israeli arenas, and in the context of a transformed regional and international situation - might conceivably serve as a catalyst and vehicle to help Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab world internalise the requirements and contours of a sustainable peace agreement. The Roadmap can become a mechanism around which efforts by Palestinians and Israelis to return to a genuine political process are organised - indeed, further justifying these efforts by the promise of a political settlement.

Perhaps its most important contribution is as a public reminder of first principles: the need to end violent confrontation, to cease settlement activity, and to rapidly replace occupation and conflict with substantive negotiations that produce a viable and sovereign Palestinian state living alongside a secure Israel. Significantly, the first obligation on the parties is for the Palestinian leadership to reaffirm its commitment to “Israel’s right to exist in peace and security” and for the Israeli leadership to affirm its commitment to an “independent, viable, sovereign Palestinian state”. Moreover, its multinational authorship is itself an accomplishment, marking a break from a long period of unilateral U.S. involvement and setting a precedent for possible international intervention in shepherding and supervising a final status agreement.

Presentation of the Roadmap comes at a moment of relative promise that it can help solidify. The protagonists, bloodied by two and a half years of tragic and senseless conflict, appear both exhausted and unwilling to surrender, yet eager to find a dignified way out. Economically, Israelis and Palestinians are suffering badly - far more suffering for the Palestinians in absolute terms to be sure, but unprecedented hardship for Israelis as well.Palestinians are questioning the direction and purpose of the uprising with rare candour and openness. A new government is in place, led by Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), who has consistently and from the start objected to the militarisation of the intifada. In Israel, Prime Minister Sharon enjoys sufficient popularity and credibility to take steps for peace, should he be so inclined.

The U.S., fresh from its military success in Iraq, has greater regional leverage and influence and added reason to demonstrate that it can exercise its power even-handedly. It is being pushed in this direction by the one leader on the international stage with some influence over President Bush, Prime Minister Blair, who - put on the defensive domestically and in the Arab world over the war with Iraq - has staked much of his credibility on the promise of an energetic push on the Arab-Israeli front. Moderate Arab governments, challenged at home for their failure to oppose or prevent the war, similarly need to be able to point to progress and may therefore be prepared to use their influence to move the process forward. The swift U.S. victory may also have served as a warning to radical Palestinian organisations and their state supporters in Syria and Iran, reducing their ability to thwart political progress.

This should not erase the reasons for scepticism. ICG, like many others, has expressed its doubts about the gradualism and sequentialism that remains at the heart of the Roadmap. While the two sides undoubtedly are exhausted by the unrelenting violence, they paradoxically also have become increasingly numb to it. The new Palestinian government may not be able or willing to rein in militant groups, particularly given the state of its own security services and of the chaos within Palestinian politics and society. There is great uncertainty about whether Prime Minister Sharon will seize this opportunity and afford the new Palestinian government the necessary breathing space by immediately improving living conditions, in the process resisting the urge to react to every act of violence, and halting provocative actions such as targeted assassinations, house demolitions, and large-scale military incursions that cost numerous civilian lives - or whether, instead, he will play for time, seeking to avoid any real political compromise.

The U.S. administration, meanwhile, has over the past two years provided ample reason to doubt its commitment to a vigorous, balanced approach to the peace process. These concerns will only be magnified as the United States approaches its presidential electoral season - never a propitious time for bold Arab-Israeli diplomacy - and as a broad campaign has been launched within the U.S. to denounce the Roadmap and the multilateralism of which it is a product. As for the oft-mentioned impact of the Iraq war, only time will tell, but so far its most notable impact has been to freeze movement on the Israeli-Palestinian during the long months leading to the war.

For better or for worse, the Roadmap is the only diplomatic instrument available, endorsed by all relevant international players and at least rhetorically embraced by the two protagonists. Today, the most important questions are those that relate to political dynamics - among Palestinians, in Israel and in the United States. The Roadmap’s optimal purpose is as a facilitator and accelerator of more important developments: a decision by the Palestinian national movement to halt all military aspects of the intifada; a decision by Israel to fundamentally transform its rules of engagement and resume a meaningful political process; and a decision by the U.S. to engage in sustained and balanced diplomacy to achieve a comprehensive and durable Israeli-Palestinian political settlement.


To members of the Quartet:

1. Bolster the recent formal presentation of the Roadmap, by issuing a joint public statement to the Israeli and Palestinian people explaining its principal features and committing to a strong effort to see it implemented in a timely manner

2. Emphasise the importance and reality of the permanent status effort by, as early as practical:

(a) fleshing out and publicly promoting core elements of a permanent, comprehensive political settlement;

(b) engaging in visible preparation for permanent status arrangements, for example by organising working groups to plan the deployment of a Multinational Force; preparing for an International Commission for Palestinian Refugees; putting together a prospective Permanent Status Economic Package; and encouraging a process whereby Palestinians relocate refugees from camps in the West Bank, Gaza and outside countries in settlements evacuated by Israel; and

(c) emphasising the optional character of a transitional Palestinian state with provisional borders, to be exercised only insofar as it does not detract from the central objective of reaching a permanent status agreement within the agreed timeline

3. On the issue of settlements:

(a) prepare a list of settlement outposts to be dismantled in accordance with Phase One of the Roadmap;

(b) adopt a pragmatic approach to a settlement freeze, focusing public and diplomatic attention on the most noxious aspects of settlement and “separation fence” construction, such as land confiscations and demolitions or activities that present a particular threat to the economic viability of individual Palestinian communities or the geographic viability of a future Palestinian state, such as is taking place in Qalqilya and East Jerusalem; and

(c) make clear that Phase Two, whether or not it results in a Palestinian state with provisional borders, must include settlement evacuations to enhance Palestinian territorial contiguity and emphasise that settlement evacuations in the West Bank and Gaza is a core requirement for a viable permanent agreement.

4. Deploy a monitoring mechanism to supervise Roadmap implementation. In the security field, the mechanism should:

(a) be U.S.-led;

(b) be professionally staffed with no less than 50 persons with a security/intelligence background, drawn from Quartet members and other relevant parties;

(c) enjoy the full political backing of the Quartet; and

(d) include a capacity for verification of Israeli and Palestinian obligations, challenge inspections and deployment at potential flashpoints.

5. Avoid intervention in intra-Palestinian politics, and in particular:

(a) avoid playing Abu Mazen against Arafat; and

(b) respect the democratic choice of the Palestinians as expressed in elections scheduled as part of the Roadmap.

6. Build on the Roadmap and its objective of comprehensive peace by reinvigorating the Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese tracks of the peace process.

To the United States government:

7. Demonstrate continuous and active leadership on Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy by:

(a) resisting attempts to dilute the Roadmap or the role of the Quartet; and

(b) appointing a credible Special Envoy empowered by President Bush to press for and supervise implementation of the Roadmap;

8. Flesh out, as part of the Quartet, elements of a permanent status agreement, and publicly promoting it with Israeli and Palestinian publics

To the Palestinian authority and Palestinian organisations:

9. Create a rebuilt, retrained and effective Palestinian security apparatus with a clear chain of command that will take pre-emptive action to prevent armed attacks.

10. Publicly and firmly condemn armed attacks, in particular suicide bombings against Israeli civilians.

11. Resume and intensify efforts between Palestinian organisations and the PA, with the support of key leaders currently detained by Israel, to agree on a political strategy to end the conflict with Israel, halt violent confrontation and recognise PA forces as the only security forces in the Palestinian territories.

To the government of Israel:

12. Create conditions that will make possible sustained security efforts by the new Palestinian government, changing current rules of engagement and deployment consistent with legitimate security needs by:

(a) ceasing the practice of military incursions, targeted assassinations, home demolitions, collective punishment and actions that endanger civilians; and

(b) lifting closures and other restrictions that affect normal civilian activity.

13. Lift movement and travel restrictions on Chairman Arafat as a further means of promoting the success of the new Palestinian government.

To Arab States:

14. Engage in intensified public diplomacy toward Israeli and Palestinian publics by:

(a) clearly endorsing the Roadmap and urging its implementation; and

(b) reinvigorating the Arab League Beirut resolution, making a direct appeal to the Israeli people for full peace and normal relations in exchange for the end of occupation and comprehensive peace agreements on all tracks.

15. Cease logistical and financial support for armed Palestinian groups that continue to engage in acts of violence.

Amman/Washington/Brussels, 2 May 2003

Related Links:

  • A Middle East Roadmap To Where? (PDF), International Crisis Group, 2 May 2003