Who’s afraid of the Road Map?

Even before its publication, Israel’s supporters in the United States launched a vigorous campaign to sabotage the U.S.-sponsored ‘Road Map’ for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Nearly 400 members of the U.S. House and Senate signed letters circulated by the pro-Israeli lobby opposing the plan.

Influential neoconservatives aligned with the Pentagon have attacked the Road Map and the State Department for promoting it. The pro-Israel lobby has always been vigilant against any U.S. policy that could thwart Israel’s long-term expansionist plans in the occupied Palestinian territories. But rhetoric against the Road Map — which is endorsed by the current president — is the sharpest since the first President Bush delayed U.S. loan guarantees to Israel in 1991.

Israel’s supporters are in full panic by even the appearance of minimal fairness and reciprocity contained in the plan.

Yossi Klein Halevi, an Israeli analyst, claimed in The Los Angeles Times that the Road Map is sloppy and biased because it does not insist that Palestinians eradicate all resistance to the occupation prior to any Israeli measures. “The credibility of the Road Map, ” Halevi argues, requires the Palestinian Authority to “uproot the terrorist infrastructure” as a first step, “before Israel can be asked for a reciprocal gesture” such as freezing settlements (April 28).

Halevi is infuriated that the Road Map contains a timetable and contends that, “it will take years, not months, to test the transformation of Palestinian society.” In other words, Halevi demands an open-ended process in which Israel is allowed to continue its killing, destruction and colonization for years, while the only tangible feature of the ‘peace process’ in the meantime would be complete Palestinian capitulation to the occupation..

The Road Map’s “greatest conceptual flaw,” Halevi argues, is “its relentless symmetry in apportioning blame.” He is bitter that it requires an end to incitement by both sides, and he asserts that while “the Palestinian Authority’s incitement campaign includes Holocaust denial and the dehumanization of Jews,” nothing “remotely comparable occurs in mainstream Israel.” Halevi ignores the fact that Israel’s government includes ministers whose parties ran for office on platforms explicitly calling for “transfer” of the Palestinians from their homeland — a crime that fits the international legal definition of genocide. Halevi displays an unusual level of neurotic denial when he ends his screed with the grotesque statement that Palestinians are living under “a self-inflicted occupation.”

While Halevi accommodates the grim reality of the occupation by blaming the Palestinians for it, the Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman maintains that the occupation (which he refers to always in quotation marks) simply does not exist. For Foxman, the director of the ubiquitous “anti-bigotry” organization that explicitly refused to condemn Sharon’s embrace of pro-ethnic cleansing parties, the danger from the Road Map is precisely that it focuses attention on the occupation instead of red-herrings like constantly escalating demands for internal Palestinian “reform.”

Writing in the ultra-conservative New York Sun, Foxman worries that according to the Road Map, “the core of the problem is Israel’s “occupation” of the territories.” Foxman understands correctly that, “once Israel’s occupation is seen as the heart of the problem, what follows in the Road Map flows inevitably” (April 14). The blame for such heretical notions lies firmly with the Road Map’s European, Russian and UN co-sponsors according to Foxman, which illustrates “the long-recognized danger of the international community becoming the focal point of Middle East diplomacy.” Hence, the pro-Israel lobby should do everything possible to keep ‘peace making’ in the hands only of the United States, where it can be kept under strict supervision, and continue to focus attention on Palestinian shortcomings.

Robert Satloff, Director of Policy and Strategic Planning at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), shares many of the same fears about the Road Map. WINEP, the most influential pro-Israel think-tank in Clinton’s Washington, and the home base of Oslo-era fixtures Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk, has been overshadowed in the Bush administration by neoconservative groups.

In his panic, Satloff has jettisoned the studied and false affectation of even-handedness that is WINEP’s trademark. Borrowing neoconservative clothing, Satloff rails that “any plan advocated by governments and institutions that oppose virtually every aspect of U.S. Mideast policy should be enough to make the Road Map suspect,” and demands more U.S. pressure for Arab “democratization” (Newsday, April 29). Satloff ought to be elated that the entire Arab League, the European Union and Russia jointly endorse a U.S. plan for Israel to have normal relations and peace with all its neighbors, but now he tells us that international support for the plan is actually a drawback.

Satloff shares the horror of international involvement and agrees that all the burden should be on the Palestinians before Israel is required to act, but he ingeniously extends this burden to the entire Arab world. He calls on Washington to demand that the Arabs “put flesh on their commitment to Israel that peace with the Palestinians means peace will all Arabs.” This translates into immediate concrete gains for Israel including “immediate steps to end anti-Semitic incitement in state-run Arab media,” — code effectively for the silencing of all criticism of Israel. Satloff also demands that Arab states “restore pre-Intifada trade and consular links and begin direct public engagement with Israelis in Israel.”

Whatever hurdles the Palestinians overcome, Israel’s chorus in the United States is ready to instantly present new ones. Against such stiff opposition, and with the presidential election campaign fast approaching, the chances that the divided Bush administration will be willing or able to resist organized Israeli obstructionism and implement the Road Map are slim indeed.

This article first appeared in The Daily Star on 3 May 2003.