Tikkun Magazine, March/April 2006
Replacing the Roadmap
by Ben Lynfield
To the end of his political life, Ariel Sharon sought to foster the idea that he was committed to the roadmap. In his last interview before being felled by a brain hemorrhage in January, Sharon told Japanese journalists that his policy toward the Palestinians was based on it.
I had heard him say this many times before. But it was only some two months before his stroke that I fully came to understand how disingenuous Sharon was being. Indeed, for two and a half years, Sharon, his aides, and his ministers had their own roadmap. They authored it. They were enthusiastically pursuing it. But it had nothing in common with the peace plan except the name.
On November 22, 2005, wearing a casual blue-and-white-striped sweater, Sharon's strategic adviser, Eyal Arad, showed up at a press conference to explain the prime minister's position on the roadmap in the run-up to the Israeli elections.
The night before, in announcing he was breaking with Likud and forming a new party, Sharon had seemingly placed the internationally endorsed plan for ending the Israel/Palestine conflict at the heart of his reelection campaign. Asked whether if reelected he would carry out further unilateral withdrawals such as the one from Gaza and northern Samaria completed in September, Sharon said: "There is no additional disengagement plan. There is the roadmap." A few days later, Sharon's newly-named Kadima party, the favorite to win the March 28 election, announced that the roadmap would be its diplomatic plan.
But Mr. Arad's remarks in elaborating on Sharon's views about the roadmap raised questions. He said startlingly that the roadmap breaks with the "territories for peace" formula that has underpinned Middle East peace efforts since 1967.
"Territories for peace," he explained, had proven "false philosophically and naive politically" because of Palestinian attacks after the Oslo Agreement and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's rejection of terms offered by Israel at the Camp David summit in 2000.
"What is essential in the roadmap is that it replaced the basic assumption of how to resolve the conflict," he said. The roadmap, he added, recognized the "falsehood of the territories-for-peace formula and replaced it with a much more realistic formula: security for independence."
Since land for peace is one of the roadmap's stated foundations (see its third paragraph) I at first thought this was an instance of campaign spin, perhaps to appeal to right-wingers who might vote for Likud. It was only when I reread the roadmap, and (very belatedly) compared it to the Sharon government's official reaction to it that I realized that Arad's remarks hinted at something highly significant.
Roadmap rewriting by Ariel Sharon began in earnest on May 25, 2003. That was when Israel, under the guise of making "comments" on the roadmap and having "reservations" about it, actually replaced the peace plan with its own competing vision of how to handle relations with the Palestinians. The international peace blueprint known as the roadmap was drafted by the United States, European Union, Russia, and United Nations and released on April 30, 2003.
Arad, almost as an aside, said that by "roadmap" what is meant is "the roadmap as approved by the [Israeli] cabinet, including the fourteen points, none of which touch on the essentials."
Actually the fourteen points that comprise the comments negate all the essentials.The "Israeli Cabinet Statement on Road Map and Fourteen Reservations" is a document of historic significance. It should not be seen as a footnote to the roadmap. It was through these fourteen comments that Israel made the rejection of negotiations towards a permanent status settlement with the Palestinians its official policy. Before the cabinet voted on the "comments," Washington agreed to "fully and seriously" address them during implementation of the roadmap. The U.S. role in facilitating Sharon's replacement of the roadmap is something that will—or at least should—preoccupy scholars of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for years to come.
The real roadmap's stated destination (paragraph one) was a "final and comprehensive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by 2005." This is restated in the outline for Phase III of the roadmap. Indeed, the whole point of the roadmap is to take steps leading to final status negotiations on borders, Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, and other issues that result in "the emergence of an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbors."
But Sharon never agreed to this as a goal, even formally. Comment Nine negates the raison d'etre of the roadmap. It says: "There will be no involvement with issues pertaining to the final status settlement. Among issues not to be discussed: settlement in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza (excluding a settlement freeze and illegal outposts); the status of the Palestinian Authority and its institutions in Jerusalem; and all other matters whose substance relates to the final settlement."
Based on this "comment" alone, it becomes inaccurate to say that the Sharon government accepted the roadmap with reservations. Even in the most limited textual sense, Sharon's Israel was never on board.
Among the other major discrepancies are that the roadmap does not require the Palestinians in Phase I to "complete the dismantling of terrorist organizations" as do the fourteen comments. The roadmap requires that the Palestinian Authority begin "sustained, targeted, and effective operations aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror and dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure."
The roadmap calls for an Israeli withdrawal "from Palestinian areas occupied" since the start of the fighting on September 28, 2000. The comments reject this, saying "Emphasis will be placed on the division of responsibilities and civilian authority as in September 2000 and not on the position of forces on the ground at that time."
The rejection is in keeping with ruling out territorial concessions that are part of an agreement. Arad explained that there was a basic difference between dealing with the Palestinians and dealing with Egypt at the time of the 1979 peace treaty under which Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula in accordance with the territories-for-peace principle. "With Egypt we were dealing with a sovereign state whose fact of existence was never in doubt," he said. "But it never worked with the Palestinians because their situation was so different. So we needed a different way and that was the roadmap."
Arad said that from the failure of the Oslo process and the Palestinian rejection of the Camp David proposals, it became clear that what the Palestinians were really after was independence and what the Israelis were after was security. He stated that "Israelis said peace, but they didn't mean a formal treaty. What they really wanted was quietness, to live life without the threat of terrorism." Of the Palestinians, he said: "The idea of semi-autonomy is wrong. What they need is the ability to be a national home over territory."
It was "painful" Arad said, to discard "used" ideas such as territory for peace, but it had to be done and the roadmap had done that.
Israeli Labor party candidate Amir Peretz has not, at least during the early days of the campaign, been stressing the term "roadmap." Mr. Peretz promised in his victory speech after winning the party leadership to remain true to the legacy of Yitzhak Rabin, the slain prime minister, and make peace with the Palestinians. But in a press conference outlining Peretz's campaign strategy, Knesset member Yuli Tamir said that when it comes to the Palestinians, there was little difference between Peretz and Sharon. Both men, she said, will complete Israel's West Bank security barrier, remove more settlements, and attempt to open dialogue with the Palestinians. In a subsequent interview published in Arabic in the Kul al-Arab newspaper, Peretz pledged to pursue final status negotiations with the Palestinians and said he opposes unilateral disengagement. "The fundamental mission I will face during my term if elected is to reach a final agreement with the Palestinians," he said. But he also said his position is that Jerusalem should remain "united under Israeli sovereignty" and ruled out a return of Palestinian refugees inside Israel.
Where do the fourteen comments and "independence for security" in place of "territories for peace" lead? If Sharon's successors in Kadima adhere to them, they are a roadmap to avoiding final status negotiations, to perpetuating the status quo, to a long-term interim solution with a non-viable, partially sovereign Palestinian "state," to further unilateral Israeli actions such as the Gaza withdrawal, or to a combination of these. If the term "independence" is used as disingenuously by Kadima as the term "roadmap" was used by Sharon, then under "independence for security," Palestinian independence could presumably be declared in Israeli defense ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv.
The pursuit of the above outcomes has often been depicted as a kind of hidden agenda that can be inferred from the ongoing fragmentation of the Palestinian areas, settlement expansion, barrier construction deep inside the West Bank, and other actions that contravene the roadmap. But the plan is in black and white, it was written nearly three years ago, and it was still being followed at the time of Sharon's massive stroke. As long as the fourteen comments remain Israeli policy, the roadmap will be merely a label that Sharon and his heirs have appropriated for their own ends.
Sharon demonstrated an ability to reverse positions, such as his long-standing view that holding certain Gaza settlements was essential to Israel's security. But the Gaza withdrawal did not in any sense mark a shift away from the fourteen comments. Most likely, a reelected Sharon would have tried to continue what has thus far been a successful strategy of replacing the roadmap.
The fourteen comments leave open the possibility of withdrawing from territory to advance Israeli demographic and other interests, but not with a partner, not as part of an exchange, not for peace, and not in accord with the interests of the Palestinians as determined by the Palestinians. An interim solution cannot be imposed now because there is no Palestinian willing to sign. If Sharon's strategy is maintained, the objective will be further understandings with Washington that determine the Palestinians' future without a Palestinian voice.
Continued Palestinian security disorder and inability or unwillingness to begin actions against those perpetrating terrorist attacks would augur well for the continued success of Sharon's strategy.
There has been no pressure to reverse this strategy within Israel. The cost in Israel's relations with the United States has been zero. The harm to Israel's relations with the European Union has thus far been small.
If Sharon's political legacy is to be upheld, then new buzzwords like "independence for security" could take on heightened importance for packaging an Israeli-imposed solution that replaces the bilateralism of the ill-fated roadmap.
Ben Lynfield is a Jerusalem-based journalist who writes on the Middle East for American and British publications.
Lynfield, Ben. 2006. Replacing the Roadmap. Tikkun 21(2):52