Editorial: Road Map to Nowhere

Editorial: Road Map to Nowhere
1 April 2008 – Arab News
The Middle East Road Map is still leading nowhere. Four months after Annapolis, Palestinian and Israeli negotiators have yet to find any way forward. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has just completed her second visit in less than a month, urging both sides on.

The only tangible achievement of her latest visit is an agreement by the Israelis to dismantle 50 roadblocks in the occupied West Bank. But viewed more closely, this amounts to little. There remain some five hundred others, including the main checkpoints, whose cumbersome processing of Palestinians on occasions produces long queues lasting hours. But far worse than this, Rice’s visit coincided with the confirmation by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that his government has given the go ahead for almost a thousand new settlement homes in East Jerusalem. Three thousand further illegal homes are in the pipeline.

A key condition the Bush administration extracted from the Israelis at Annapolis last November was that there would be a freeze on further settlement building. Yet no sooner had the Israeli delegation returned home than the expansion program was given the green light to continue. The Israelis argue that new settlements in East Jerusalem are merely filling in existing developments, and in any event they have no intention of giving up East Jerusalem to be the capital of an independent Palestinian state, as the Palestinians wish and Arab states demand. According to a government spokesman said yesterday “Jerusalem is indivisible”.

Jerusalem and the wider issue of illegal settlements constitute one of the many pressure points the Israelis have created to push on hard whenever they wish to goad the Palestinians into angry protest, which the Israelis can then represent to the outside world as unreasonable, even aggressive behavior. If the Palestinian Authority walks out of talks, as they did once already, objecting to the continuing settlement program, the Israelis turn innocently and ask how they can negotiate with someone who isn’t there.

Maybe in the twilight of his presidency, George W. Bush is realizing the degree to which the Israelis have played his administration for a sucker. His commitment to driving through a peace deal is no doubt real but his Israeli allies have backed him into a corner. He failed to appreciate the significance of the Hamas electoral victory. As a consequence he bought the Israeli line that Hamas were terrorists who should be isolated from the political process. Thus he propelled the Palestinians into civil conflict and division. Even now as Rice urges on the Palestinian Authority to compromise, she knows that he can currently speak for only part of his country. Supposing a breakthrough deal were cut tomorrow, it would still have to be sold to Hamas.

It is the Americans who are being made to look weak and foolish in this process. And this has not been done by the Palestinians, but by America’s still-treasured allies, the Israelis. Will Bush ever wake up?

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