Don't Panic! May 07 2003

Your war questions answered

What is the "roadmap to peace" and what are the obstacles to its fulfillment?

The "roadmap to peace" is a just-released proposal to solve the Israeli-Palestinian war by 2005. It was written in December by the so-called Quartet — the U.S. (basso profundo), European Union (baritono), Russia (alto) and United Nations (castrato).

Calling the proposal a roadmap to peace is misleading, though. Roadmaps are detailed descriptions of a path or course. At just two pages, the quartet's proposal is more of an itinerary. There are no details about how things are supposed to be done, only general to-do lists. Calling it a roadmap to peace in the Middle East is like saying that "get in the car and drive south" is a roadmap to Florida.

Quartet, shmortet — the plan is really an American one. By getting the E.U., U.N. and R.U.S.S.I.A. in on our side early, we're smartly short-circuiting any possible moves by Palestinian leadership to play them against us when negotiations get tough. It's called multi-lateralism. From President Bush, of all people — who knew?

Anyway, the plan is divided into three phases. The first phase, which those of us who are in the loop like to call Phase I, focuses on confidence-building measures between the two sides. The Palestinian leadership is supposed to loudly accept that Israel should exist and explicitly renounce violence "against Israelis anywhere." More importantly, and far more difficult, Palestinian leaders are gonna have to successfully police popular terrorist organizations within their own community, most notably Hamas.

Israel's job during Phase I is to withdraw from Palestinian areas that it began reoccupying in September 2000, ix-nay on the West Bank settlement building, and also loudly accept that Palestinians should have their own state. As a further confidence builder, Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will invite Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (known as Abu Mazen to his friends) on a forest retreat where they will take turns falling backward into each other's arms while blindfolded.

That, and a whole lot more, is supposed to be done by the end of May. Good luck. Phase II, which goes from June through December, is supposed to include a peace settlement between Israel, Syria and Lebanon. This is where our military victory in Iraq helps things. When Bush, I mean push comes to shove, Colin Powell (who's visiting Syria soon) can look at Syrian President Bashar Assad and say, "You can be smart, or you can be smart-bombed. Your call, pal."

Phase II also includes the creation of a "provisional" Palestinian state — basically outlining in pencil what Phase III will I hope put in permanent ink (I recommend the Sharpie. Those things are darn near impossible to erase). Phase III will include a peace conference that will finalize borders, determine how much of Jerusalem the Palestinians will get, and also whether any Palestinian refugees will be allowed to return to Israel.

If that all seems very vague to you, that's because it is. The roadmap to peace is like those old Remington electric shaver commercials where pitchman Victor Kiam would say, "Here's how it works, the first blade shaves incredibly close. The second, even closer." Our roadmap is basically, "OK, fellas, on the count of three, let's have peace in the Middle East."

Its vagueness isn't the only potential problem. It isn't even the biggest one. The biggest obstacles are Israelis and Palestinians themselves. Right-wing Israelis have criticized the plan already and they control Israel's government right now. Hey, don't they know that criticizing Bush is un-American? On the Palestinian side, it's unclear whether Abu Mazen will be able to get his side to comply with Phase I's requirements, much less stay in power. In this country, a good bit of Bush's conservative Christian supporters are vehemently opposed to Bush pulling too many compromises out of Israel. I hope our Christian conservatives will be too distracted by the smoke from their Dixie Chicks CD bonfires to notice.


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