Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Dead end?
My (guarded) optimism in the preliminary posting after Bush gave his "road map" speech on Palestinian-Israeli peace last Friday was way off target. In an analytical piece from Jerusalem, the New York Times' James Bennet, wrote why:

"Bush pleased Israelis and dismayed Palestinians by describing the draft proposal as open to amendment, saying on Friday, 'We will expect and welcome contributions from Israel and the Palestinians to this document that will advance true peace.'"

The thing is that the three other members of the so-called Quartet (the EU, the UN and Russia) consider the "road map", which is still in the draft proposal stage, as fixed, and insist it imposes immediate concessions on both parties.

One point of contention was Bush"s statement: "As progress is made toward peace, settlement activity in the occupied territories must end." What the EU, UN and Russia worry about is that Bush is demanding the appointment of a powerful prime minister and an end to violence from the Palestinians now, in exchange for eventual Israeli concessions on halting settlement construction.

Instead of a "parallel process of simultaneous concessions," a Western diplomat said, Bush is "using the vocabulary of sequentialism."

Meanwhile, Israel itself is said to have sought many changes in the document, including, if we are to believe Aluf Benn in Ha'aretz, the following:

* The Israeli document demands that the Palestinian state that will emerge in an agreement with Israel and will do so following direct negotiations between the two sides and not through dialogue and understandings as the road map states.

* Israel also rejects the demand of immediate removal of all illegal outposts set up in the territories during the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. According to the Israeli version, the government will "enforce the law in relation to the outposts."

* For the first time, in this document, Israel delineates the terms under which it will agree to a freeze in settlement activity: "following a continuous and comprehensive security calm."

* Israel rejects the notion that the freeze will also include the natural growth of settlements.

* The document rejects a further withdrawal in the West Bank, according to the Oslo Accords, and the removal of settlements in order to grant territorial continuity to a Palestinian state - even during the stage of the temporary borders.

* The Israeli document says the future of the settlements will be determined only by a final agreement and therefore Israel is only willing to grant territorial continuity to the Palestinians only where "this is possible."

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