Hostage to Israeli intransigence

The roadmap has recently attracted renewed and growing attention from politicians in the region and mediators exerting efforts to renew a political process between Palestinians and Israelis.

The document took on special importance after the appointment of George Mitchell as US envoy to the region with the brief to pursue peace-making efforts between the Israelis and Arabs. Indeed the roadmap, which became a document of consensus and a United Nations Security Council resolution, was originally based on a report that Mitchell himself drafted after his mission here in 2001.

A second reason for its renewed importance is the current tension between the US and Israel over the need to stop Israel’s settlement expansion in occupied territory. This requirement is based on the unequivocal obligations placed on Israel under the first phase of the roadmap.

The roadmap consists of three phases. The first phase consists of preliminary requirements aimed at creating a conducive atmosphere for actual peace negotiations. The second phase is optional and concerns establishing a Palestinian state with provisional borders. The third phase is about ending the conflict and establishing peace on the basis of a two-state solution.

The first phase has been the most controversial. This is not because it wasn’t drafted carefully and in detail but rather because of the lack of seriousness on the part of a third party, whether the Quartet or the US, to ensure implementation. Indeed, the previous US administration showed the most bias toward Israel in the history of the conflict.

Phase one sets out specific obligations on both parties to the conflict. The Palestinians are required to end violent activities against Israel and dismantle any infrastructure related to such activities while developing and reforming institutions necessary for state-building.

Phase one obliges Israel to end all kinds of settlement construction and expansion, including construction for so-called natural growth, as well dismantling all settlement outposts established after March 2001. In addition, Israel is supposed to facilitate the movement of persons and goods by removing restrictions to such movement, i.e., lifting checkpoints, between the different parts of the Palestinian territories, including between the West Bank and Gaza, as well as between the Palestinian areas and the outside world.

Finally, the roadmap obliges Israel to reopen Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem, that were closed by military orders after the Aqsa intifada started. This pertains especially to Orient House, which was the center of activity for the Palestinian political movement in Jerusalem as well as for the Palestinian negotiating team.

None of that happened. Israel instead, under the stewardship of Ariel Sharon and the most right-wing and anti-peace government since the Oslo process, hesitated in accepting the roadmap. After a long delay, the country finally signed the document but burdened the roadmap with 14 reservations that were communicated to the Quartet and made public.

The roadmap never gained traction. Israel’s insistence that it would only fulfill its obligations under phase one after Palestinians fulfilled theirs ensured its abortion. The debate became one of whether the fulfillment of obligations should be sequential or simultaneous.

Now the current US administration seems to have a more reasonable understanding of the first phase and expects the two parties to make simultaneous efforts to fulfill their obligations. However, while both American and Israeli security officials have repeatedly commended the Palestinian side for its efforts to fulfill its phase one obligations, the US faces serious difficulties in convincing Israel to comply with its obligations regarding freezing settlement construction and dismantling outposts.

Until the US succeeds in thus convincing Israel, the three phases of the roadmap will remain hostage to Israeli intransigence as, consequently, will peace-making efforts.