THE US-SPONSORED ''road map'' to peace between Israel and the Palestinians is not a very challenging document. The text is only 41/2 pages long. Anyone willing to invest 15 minutes in reading it can glean a pretty good idea of its terms.
And yet a surprising number of people one might expect to be familiar with the road map seem not to know what it says.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, for example.
In an interview last week with Lally Weymouth of Newsweek and The Washington Post, Abbas said he had discussed the road map four times with Ariel Sharon and was ''waiting to see'' if the Israeli leader would deliver on his commitments.
''Does that mean freezing settlements?'' Weymouth asked.
''Not this only,'' Abbas answered, ''but all the items stipulated in the road map - freeing the prisoners ... ''
''But the issue of prisoners is not in the road map,'' Weymouth said.
''It is in the road map,'' insisted Abbas.
In fact, it isn't in the road map. There is nothing at all in the blueprint that requires or even encourages Israel to release Palestinians arrested for terrorist activities. It is hardly plausible that Abbas didn't know that. More likely, he knew it perfectly well - but figured most Washington Post and Newsweek readers wouldn't.
After all, in the weeks leading up to President Bush's back-to-back summits with Abbas and Sharon, the media harped incessantly on the release of Palestinian prisoners as a critical step in the latest Middle East peace process. Some reporters noted in passing that the road map doesn't mention prisoners, but others falsely implied - or stated outright - that freeing criminals was an obligation the agreement imposes on Israel.
The week Abbas arrived in Washington, for example, the Post was reporting that ''the road map has stalled over several key issues,'' including ''Palestinian demands for ... the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.'' A few days earlier, the Los Angeles Times informed its readers that Sharon and Abbas were to discuss ''ongoing steps under the peace plan known as the `road map,' including the release of some Palestinian prisoners.''
Last week, succumbing to the international pressure, Israel agreed to free 540 prisoners, including 210 members of the terrorist organizations Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The Israeli government promised not to release any prisoners ''with blood on their hands,'' but time and again that is exactly what it has done.
In June, for example, as a goodwill gesture to Abbas, Israel freed more than 100 imprisoned Palestinians. One of them was Ahmed Jbarra, who murdered 14 people and wounded 60 in a horrific bombing in 1975. Upon his release, the unrepentant Jbarra was hailed by Palestinians as a hero and promptly named an ''adviser'' to Yasser Arafat. Soon after, The Jerusalem Post reported, he was publicly urging Palestinians to kidnap Israelis so they could be exchanged for even more prisoners.
But none of that got much attention outside Israel, where the focus has moved on to what else Israel should be doing to keep the road map alive. Much has been made of the security wall Israel is building along the West Bank border. Palestinian demands that Israel demolish the wall have gotten a great deal of attention; so has the Bush administration's public criticism. And yet the wall too is something about which the road map says absolutely nothing.
By contrast, it says a great deal about what the Palestinian Authority is supposed to do. The PA's foremost obligation, more critical to the road map's success than anything else, is to crush the terrorists who have shed so much blood.
The language is explicit: The PA must ''declare an unequivocal end to violence and terrorism.'' It must ''arrest, disrupt, and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere.'' It must end ''all official ... incitement against Israel.'' Above all, it must carry out the ''dismantlement of terrorist capability and infrastructure.'' These are not goodwill gestures. They are mandatory commitments the Palestinians must fulfill if the road map is to go forward.
So far they have fulfilled none of them. The anti-Israel incitement continues. Terrorism has not stopped. As for the dismantling of terrorist groups, Abbas says bluntly that it will never happen.
''Cracking down on Hamas, [Islamic] Jihad, and the Palestinian organizations,'' he said on July 23, ''is not an option at all.''
It is the Oslo farce all over again: Israel weakens itself through concessions on the ground. The Palestinians pocket the concessions, then break their promise of peace.
However well meant, this is a road map to nowhere. It will not lead to genuine peace, not so long as the Palestinians are ruled by the likes of Arafat and Abbas. Terrorism made them what they are; it is the taproot of their power and influence. From such men, peace will never come.
The indispensable first step to Mideast peace remains what it always has been: a new and different Palestinian leadership, one not compromised by terror. Until that leadership appears, the violence and bloodshed will go on.
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The Pentagon has dropped its scheme to create a stock market for investors who want to trade in international disasters. Too bad. I was planning to make a bundle on Palestinian futures. Naturally, I intended to sell short. You can't go wrong betting on the Palestinian genius for self-inflicted disaster.
Last week, on a visit to Jerusalem, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, described the ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians as "paper-thin." That overestimates the durability of paper. All signs point to an outbreak of fighting by the end of the summer.
The Palestinians lost the last intifadeh, which is why they asked for a ceasefire. And they will lose the next. The difference is, this time it will be Israel's intifadeh. And America won't be there to stop it. In fact, the United States will be rooting Israel on.
The Palestinians were warned about this when Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas visited the White House last month. Abbas came with complaints: the security fence (Abbas calls it a wall) Israel is building across the West Bank, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's refusal to open the prison gates and release thousands of inmates and the general difficulties of life under occupation.
President Bush was polite. He agreed that the fence might be a problem, although he didn't sound as if he cared much - an impression confirmed during Sharon's subsequent visit to Washington. On the other hand, Bush was unsympathetic on the subject of releasing terrorists and downright hostile to the Palestinian claim that under the terms of the road map, they are obligated to nothing more than a ceasefire.
In the road map, the Palestinians agreed to make "visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere." In other words, Abbas and his colleagues have promised to take on Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and the rest of the armed terrorist groups.
Obviously, the Palestinians knew this when they signed up for the road map. What they didn't know is that Bush would hold them to it. As the late Udai Hussein observed, in a related context, Bush isn't like Bill Clinton. The president is deadly serious about fighting terrorism, including Palestinian terrorism. And so is Sharon (you could say he isn't Ehud Barak).
"For the past three years, we have paid a heavy price for Israel's restraint over the daily violations of the Oslo Accords," he told the graduating class of Israel's National Defense College last week.
But that's all over now. Sharon is demanding nothing less than "a total cessation of violence" and "the fulfillment of every obligation included in the road map." In plain Hebrew, this means that if the Palestinians don't go after the terrorists, he will.
The day after Sharon's speech, Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan responded by saying he would not disarm Hamas and other groups because it would lead to a civil war. He's calling Sharon's bluff. And Bush's.
This will be a painful mistake. Sharon and Bush are operating under the same motto: Bring 'em on.
Sharon has been building toward this moment since he became prime minister. First, by retaking the West Bank in the spring of 2002, he exploded the myth that the Palestinians could win a guerrilla war. Then he isolated and discredited Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Finally, he pounded the Palestinians into exhaustion, forcing them to ask for a temporary truce.
None of this could have come to pass without the backing of the Israeli public - or the support of the Bush administration. The price of this support was signing up for the road map. Sharon - who doesn't necessarily want the Palestinian state the plan envisions - was ready to pay. He figured Abbas' check would bounce, and then he'd get a refund from the Americans.
Sharon seems to have been banking on a sure thing. Palestinian terror groups already are engaged in a recruiting drive and an effort to replenish their weapons, including stocks of crude mortars. Arafat is stridently calling Abbas' patriotism and manhood into question. It's just a matter of time before the Palestinians whip themselves into a delusional state of righteous indignation over Israeli crimes, real and imagined. Then the shooting starts - and Israel's intifadeh.
The campaign Sharon has planned will take its tactical cues from U.S. operations in Iraq. Rules of engagement will be the same. Leaders once considered immune - the chief of Hamas, the heads of Islamic Jihad in Damascus and perhaps Arafat himself - will get the Saddam Hussein treatment.
When the fighting stops, Sharon intends for the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority to be as dead as the Iraqi Baath Party. Any future Palestinian government will have to conform to the criteria America has set for self-government in Baghdad: constitutional government and a full commitment to peace.
It is, of course, unclear that the United States can pull this off in Iraq. And it is perhaps even less likely that it will work in the West Bank and Gaza. But that doesn't trouble Sharon. Having adopted the American gold standard, he comes out ahead. Pentagon stock market or no, Palestinian futures are a loser.
Modified from the original that was published in The Jerusalem Post in 1994.
Something strange happened to me on the Temple Mount a few weeks ago.
There, for the first time in all the years I have been in Israel, I was physically accosted while praying and forced to leave the area, which, while under Muslim oversight, is territorially part of the sovereign State of Israel.
This state has long prided itself in guaranteeing adherents of all religions freedom to enter and worship at sites special to them. As a Christian, I enjoyed the security provided by this policy - until I went to pray on the Temple Mount.
It is perplexing enough for me, a Gentile, to try and understand how the Jewish authorities could ever have agreed, in 1967, to limit their nation's access to Judaism's most holy site. It is even more difficult to accept that this strong, sovereign Jewish state is now moving to reinforce this situation.
And as for the deafening silence greeting this decision, I find its nearly universal acceptance by Jews in Israel and abroad totally incomprehensible.
Have I got this right?
The Jewish nation believes it has every right to its homeland here in Israel. Many base their claim on their biblical history. For them, no dichotomy exists between biblical history and the extra-scriptural history of the last 2000 years.
Christians comprehend this Jewish history, as it pertains to the Temple Mount, as follows:
Around 3000 years ago, King Solomon built the first Temple on that hill. The Bible tells us that, after he dedicated the Temple, fire fell from heaven and the divine presence filled the sanctuary. (Of special interest to Christians is Solomon's prayer that the God of Israel would also hear the prayers of foreigners who come to pray on the Mount.)
So began the most glorious era the Jewish nation ever knew, with Israel's borders secured and extending further than at any other time in history.
Tragically, their forefathers lost their fear of God and, as a result, Israel fell in battle and was exiled. But as they longed for their land and prayed to return, Israel's prophets encouraged them with promises that they would be restored.
They did return, and built the Second Temple, before being defeated in battle again and driven into exile for nearly 2000 pain-filled years.
For centuries, their communities were scattered among the nations of the world; welcomed by few, pursued by most. Looking back, it is as if virtually the whole Gentile world was intent on their destruction.
And yet, in their synagogues, on the numerous roads of their exile, hounded and hunted by Christian and Muslim, the Jews held fast to the belief that one day they would return to Israel, to Jerusalem, and ultimately to their Temple Mount. And they looked forward to the day when God's glory would be restored to them, and Israel would indeed be a light to the nations.
Eventually, their numbers decimated by antisemitic tyranny, the remnant of what should have been one of the mightiest nations in existence began making its way home.
The rest is recent history. In 1948, Jewish dominion was restored to part of the land. Arab wars of aggression led to the extension of that sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, the Golan Heights and Gaza and, finally - on that glorious day - over all Jerusalem.
And then, for some unfathomable reason, the Jews stopped. Although the ultimate answer to their centuries of praying and longing was at last within legal reach, they permitted the Temple Mount to remain in Muslim hands.
Instead of opening the way for rebuilding their Temple, they restricted themselves to further decades of praying at a ruined Herodian wall. Until today, Jews and Christians are barred from praying openly on the Mount. And now their authorities are virtually unopposed in their decision to uphold this status quo.
Modern-day Israel makes much - not without justification - of its policy of guaranteeing free and protected access to all religious holy places in Jerusalem. It is historical fact that, before the restoration of Jewish sovereignty, the sites sacred to Judaism - and Christianity - were anything but unrestricted or protected.
Following the extensive improvement in this situation during the past 36 years, many Christians want Israel to retain sovereignty over the Mount - and over all the sites Christians hold dear, including many of Judaism's.
At the very least, should Israel not confine Islamic custodianship on the Temple Mount to the inner walls of its mosques and open the rest of the hill to all Jews and Christians wishing to pray there?
As a Christian who loves the nation who gave me my Bible, my commandments and my Messiah, and who aches to see an end to the suffering of the Jews, I join with them in longing for the day when true and lasting peace will come to this land.
But how can it come, I wonder, when the people to whom Israel stretches out its hand in peace remain unrepentant of their hatred of the Jewish nation? How can it come, when the people laying claim to Israel's holiest site as part of their State of Palestine remain bent on banning Jews and Christians from praying there forever?
4. I PROMISE...by Isaac Kohn - IsraelNationalNews.com - August 8, 2003
August 6, 2003. Ketziot Prison.
The line of prisoners moved along quickly and the moment of release was getting ever closer. A pile of documents, clearly and neatly typed, double-spaced, lay in front of the three officers sitting on the other side of the table. As his turn came, the prisoner picked up the pen and without even reading the short paragraph detailing the prisoner's promise, he dated and signed on the dotted line. "Next!" called out the officer; the handcuffs were removed, the prisoner quickly walked towards the buses.
Almost four-hundred terrorists raised their fingers in the internationally accepted “V” gesture expressing victory. "See you soon!" yelled one. The buses, packed with smiling former prisoners, rolled out of the Ketziot Prison yard. And out of Offer and Meggido. The inch-thick pile of close to four-hundred signed documents lay neatly in a file holder; the folder tag read "I promise…"
October, 2003. Jerusalem, Israel. 7:45 AM“Kol Yisrael in Jerusalem. Three tremendous explosions ripped apart the packed Egged buses just as the last passengers, mostly children and young students on their first day back to school after the holidays, managed to squeeze in. The powerful bombs, each estimated at over fifty kilos, were tightly packed with hundreds of nails and screws, designed to maim as many as possible. Details remain sketchy at these first moments. First accounts are of thirty-three dead near Tel-Aviv, sixteen dead and twenty-two more near Netanya and Ashdod respectively. The number of wounded may be well over two-hundred, including many passengers waiting at the stations for transfer to other buses. Witnesses at one site claim to have seen an Arab looking young-man board the bus, three stations back and police confirm that a body has been positively identified as that of the homicide bomber.
“Prime Minister Sharon is, at this moment, convening an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss Israel's response to these unimaginable disasters. Stay tuned as we continue, uninterrupted, to bring you explicit details from the sites of the latest carnage.”
“Kol Yisrael in Jerusalem. It is now 8 AM and we continue our coverage of the three simultaneous homicide-bombings, which occurred just about fifteen minutes ago. Our sources reveal that in the last few minutes a total of six bodies were identified as those of the homicide-bombers. There were three on one bus, two on another and the third had one bomber. We were told that thorough body searches revealed very curious, interesting and distressing items. Here is Police spokesman, Dan Avigdor, to explain what those interesting items were.”
Spokesman Avigdor: “Each of the terrorists had a small plastic packet in his pocket, containing two sheets of paper. One related his name, age, city of birth and organizational affiliation Three were from Hamas, and one each from the Tanzim, PLFP and Fatah. Each was between twenty-three and thirty years old, single, fanatically religious, all on their final, voyage to shahidism; the typical terrorist goon we have known for so long.
“The other sheet of paper was more upsetting [the Prime Minister, upon seeing the six identical sheets of paper, slammed his fist on the table but remained silent]. The sheet of paper was a copy of the 'paper' each had ceremoniously signed barely two months ago during the mass release of terrorist prisoners as a 'good-will gesture' to Abu Mazen. Each paper, a promissory note, if you will, had the prisoner's signature prominently displayed below the short paragraph in which the terrorist promised 'never again to engage in terror acts against Israeli citizens....' The paper had a huge, red 'X' marked on it with the following words written across: 'In deceiving the infidel Jew, Islam's eternal enemy, I follow the example set by the Prophet Muhammad.' I wonder what this means?”
Kol Yisrael: “We are interrupting this broadcast to bring you Prime Minister Sharon.
Knesset correspondent: “Mr. Prime Minister, what is your reaction to these tragedies? How will Israel respond?”
PM Sharon: “Citizens of Israel. I am in total shock. For the life of me I don't understand this. I can't understand how they could, once again, do such dastardly, despicable acts of murder.
Text of Prisoner Release DeclarationThe following is IMRA's translation of the Hebrew version of the declaration signed by convicted Palestinians released today by Israel. The text was provided to IMRA by the IDF Spokesperson's Office (the same text was signed by those who had not been sentenced yet with minor changes)
Declaration and Commitment
I the undersigned (name) (ID)It should be noted that Israel Radio Territories Correspondent Avi Yissakharov reported from Tulkarem that one of the released Palestinians, a Palestinian Police officer, told him that he would continue to actively struggle against Israel and this does not conflict with the release declaration since he committed in the release declaration not to engage in terror, and the struggle against Israel is not terror.
Dr. Aaron Lerner, Director IMRA (Independent Media Review & Analysis)
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