Israel Report

June 2003         

D.O.A. - The Road Map

by Shawn Pine - June 25, 2003
A little more than a month after its unveiling the road map to peace is effectively dead. The political process in implementing the road map will continue, but these will be nothing more than attempts to facilitate the illusion of peacemaking that has characterized the Israeli - Palestinian peace process since 1993. The recent visit to the region by US Secretary of State Colin Powell, and attempts by Arab states in the region to try to formulate a cease-fire among the various Palestinian militant groups, continue to perpetuate a surreal political facade against the harsh reality on the ground.

The road map will probably be kept on a political life support system for a few years, as was its predecessor the Oslo Accords. However, in the end the plug will be pulled and the road map will go the way of the Oslo process. Unfortunately, this will occur only after extracting an excruciating political price on its US, European, and Arab proponents and a more tangible price on Israelis and Palestinians. The road map has failed not because it was flawed in its construct, which consisted of a step by step implementation of empirical steps designed to test the resolve of both sides to reach a final and fair settlement. Rather, it will fail because it was fatally flawed in the strategic assumptions and underlying premise which formed the basis of the road map.

The road map was based upon a number of assumptions. These assumptions included: that the US strategic military victory over Iraq could serve as a surrogate to an Israeli strategic military victory over the Palestinians; that the Arab states, impressed by the decisive US victory would be cowed and would acquiesce to US pressure for them to aggressively cut off support to Palestinian militant groups; that after almost three years of a devastating war of attrition the Palestinians were ready to abandon terrorism as a means of achieving their political aspirations; and that the core of the conflict between the Israel and Palestinians was over the territories that Israel captured in with 1967 War.

Unfortunately, most of these assumptions were erroneous and collectively they resulted in a flawed and failed policy. The Palestinians show little inclination to reign in and dismantle its myriad of Palestinian militant groups. Thus far, Arab states in the region been reluctant, for their own domestic and regional reasons, to exert the requisite pressure to stop funding of these groups. While the US military defeat of Iraq has dealt Islamic militant groups a debilitating financial and psychological blow it has not destroyed their will to continue their struggle. Indeed, while the military defeat of Iraq has enhanced Israelis strategic military security it has left it more vulnerable politically. The timing of the implementation of the road map suggests that it was done as a quid pro quo for European and Arab acquiescence to US military operations in Iraq and to placate regional and European resentment over those operations. Consequently, rather than view its actions as a source if emulation, the United States has adapted a "do as I say, not as I do" approach for other countries facing similar threats. Such a policy will hardly solidify the moral positioning of the United States or enhance its prestige as the sole global hegemon. Indeed, the reluctance of the United States to unconditionally support Israel in its own struggle against Islamic terrorism will be perceived by its enemies as a weakness.

A reading of the road map makes it clear that political progress in fulfilling Palestinian national aspirations is contingent upon the Palestinians reining in and dismantling the various militant groups. Not only is maintaining control over indigenous militant groups a prerequisite for implementation of the political aspects of the road map, it is a fundamental obligation of any political entity that wishes to be a full member of the international community. That the Palestinians lack the will and/or capability to fulfill this basic premise of nationhood suggests that the time is not propitious for the establishment of a Palestinian political entity. Ironically, the Palestinians need only look to Israel and Ben-Gurion 's actions against various Jewish groups for inspiration. While a painful episode in Israeli history, and one which has engendered much animosity and hatred to this day, it was a political prerequisite for Israeli statehood.

The road map represents at least two strategic/political threats to Israel. First, the failure to immediately disarm and destroy the terrorist infrastructure of Palestinian militant groups threatens the security of Israeli citizens. The longer these groups operate, and evoke Israeli counter responses, the more entrenched these groups become and the broader political support they receive from the broader Palestinian public. US, European, and Israeli pressures only serve to further enhance the political power base and popularity of these groups, much the same way that Saddam Hussein's stature was enhanced despite his strategic defeat in the first Gulf War. Just as it required his physical removal and destruction of his regime to remove the threat that Hussein posed to the region, so too must Palestinian militant groups be destroyed.

Equally dangerous is the prospect that the process of the road map will supplant its tangible operative concepts and its main goal (securing a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians) for the sake of continuing the implementation of the road map process. As with the Oslo process, the bureaucratic exigency of continuing the road map will override what would become perceived as a peripheral issue (cessation of terror). This will create an environment in which the Israelis will be pressured to offer tangible concessions in return for what has historically been demonstrated to be vacuous promises. Once Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority sense that they can extract political concessions without fulfilling their obligations they will have little incentive to reign in militant Islamic Palestinian groups. This will only serve to embolden Palestinian extremists to increase and accelerate their attacks. This is nothing more than a repackaging of the Oslo Accords which resulted in the 2000 Palestinian intifada.

Under this process, terms such as the need to "maintain the momentum towards peace" and "not to let terrorism win" will represent the lexicon of the road map much as it did during the Oslo process. Proponents of the process will argue that we cannot "allow terrorism to win" and that we must defeat those "opposed to peace" by accelerating the process. As the parties move deeper into the process their prestige and political credibility will become more interlocked with the process. As some point, they will be support the continuation the road map long after its chance of success will have become nullified by the reality on the ground. The net result of this process, should it reach its logical conclusion, will be the establishment of a militant Palestinian state alongside a strategically truncated Israel.

The current strategy is to try to obtain a "cease-fire" in hopes settling the reality on the ground to justify implementation of the political aspects of the road map. The expectation is that once a cease-fire is achieved there will be an advancement on the political phase and an improvement in the conditions in the living conditions of the Palestinians. The hope is that this will serve to undermine the legitimacy of groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad while concomitantly allowing Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to build a power base so that he can ultimately bring these groups to heal.

Unfortunately, this attempt merely illustrates the tenuous facade in which the parties are negotiating. Obtaining a "cease-fire" will not lead to the success of the road map for two reasons. First, Palestinian militant groups recognize that their popularity is a function of their militancy. Each attack enhances their prestige among their constituency. In many respects these groups are in a zero sum game with Abbas and the Palestinian authority. The more they are absorbed into the general Palestinian bureaucracy the more power they will lose. Consequently, they will not readily surrender what they perceive to be the source of their strength. Especially when considering that the core tenet of these groups is the physical destruction of Israel. More important, this strategy fails to address the basic road bloc in preventing the implementation of the road map. Namely, the fact that nearly 80 percent of Palestinians believe, as core fundamental tenet, that the existence of the state of Israel within any borders is an anathema and inconsistent with Palestinian national objectives.

For decades Palestinian society has been inculcated with the most vitriolic, violent anti-Semitic/Israeli rhetoric. It will take at least a generation of reorienting Palestinian society to allow them to build a base for democratic society and instill in them the notion of peaceful coexistence with Israel. Unfortunately, the formulators of the road map only gave themselves a few years under the mistaken premise that a defined reward, the establishment of a Palestinian State within a short period of time, would be able to supplant decades of political and cultural animosity that have become part of the Palestinian psyche.

History is replete with examples of mortal enemies making peace with each other. However, in modern history this has occurred only when one side experienced a decisive strategic defeat. This is an existential struggle of the most dangerous kind. Where one society yearns for peace and the other struggles for the destruction of that society. Because the Israeli society seeks resolution of the conflict, they are much more vulnerable to third party manipulation, coercion, and pressure.

The solution to the conflict is obvious. There needs to be one political and military voice that not only will profess to speak for the Palestinians but has the force and will to carry out its political decisions. This will occur only when the Palestinian militant groups are either brought to heel or eradicated from within its midst. Only then can there emerge a Palestinian society that will seek a resolution of the conflict through negotiation and with the understanding and acceptance that whatever Palestinian political entity emerges, it will not geographically supplant Israel.

By its nature countries/peoples engaged in an existential struggle can only be resolved with the strategic defeat of one of the antagonists. The United States intuitively understood this when it launched its crusade against Islamic terrorism in Afghanistan, Iraq, and a score of other countries. However, for some inexplicable reason it is failing to apply the same standard when it comes to Islamic terrorism emanating from the Palestinians. Unfortunately, by its failure to recognize the strategic long-term threat that groups like Hamas, and Islamic Jihad represent to the United States, its is pursuing a very myopic and ephemeral strategy.

Shawn Pine is a research associate of the Freeman Center For Strategic Studies. He recently returned from Israel where he was a Ph.D. candidate in international relations at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He received a Master of Arts degree in Middle Eastern studies from the University of Texas at Austin and holds a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service degree from Georgetown University.

Source: Freeman Centre

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