Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The Road Map to Middle East Peace-Speed Bumps and All

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The Road Map to Middle East Peace-Speed Bumps and All

Article excerpt

If President George W. Bush doesn't take the road map seriously, his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, couldn't be more serious. After meeting with Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), Rice met the following day with Ariel Sharon, and brought up the obvious fact that the Israeli prime minster is taking additional chunks of West Bank land on the pretext that he needs defense positions to protect the Israelis.

Rice would not let go of the subject, making it clear-perhaps for the first time-that Sharon is dealing in very bad faith. It may seem obvious to Palestinians and their supporters, who now number most of the rest of the world. It is quite possible, however, that neither Bush nor Rice had fully realized what Sharon is up to until Rice went and walked on both sides of the wall Sharon is constructing.

It is hard for Americans to realize how woefully misinformed they are. Because they believe that the Israelis have some sense of decency or shame, time after time they have been astonished at how Sharon and many of his predecessors have lied, cheated, reneged on agreements, or told the rest of the world to go jump in a lake.

Once a president or secretary of state assumes office, there is little time for carefully nuanced details. So, call it naivete or suddenly seeing the light, but Bush and Rice clearly are trying to untangle the thickets that Israel's friends-and particularly Sharon-have planted to make it impossible to move forward on the road map. Secretary of State Colin Powell has understood this for some time, of course. Now, however, he no longer has to fly blind, because Bush and Rice are now singing in the same key.

What changed everything was Bush's promise to British Prime Minister Tony Blair to deal with the Middle East crisis without further delay. Blair has made it clear that only if Bush sticks with the road map and doesn't allow Sharon to alter it, will things turn out all right. Fellow Quartet members Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations, have been on board for some time, of course.

Bush may be honestly naive, but Ariel Sharon is not. The Israeli prime minister still believes that he can sweet-talk Bush out of any doubts he may have. On his coming visit, if it occurs, the U.S. will have to convince Sharon that this is a very serious crisis and that Bush won't put up with any more pettifoggery.

In response Sharon, predictably, will assume a deep defensive posture. He could manufacture a new cabinet crisis, and perhaps even new Israeli elections, if necessary. There may be more of the desperately imaginative tricks the Israelis pull off so smoothly. For Israel, the question is how to delay and stall indefinitely in the hope that Bush finally will become so concerned about a second term that he will postpone a confrontation until after he is safely reelected.

The clock, however, just keeps ticking. Blair needs results on the peace road map now, as do the other long-suffering members of the Quartet-not to mention the Palestinians.

There are factors that bode well for Bush's hope to move the road map along even in the run up to the 2004 elections. For one thing, election politics have not worked out as some Bush campaign strategists forecast. The famous "Jewish vote," for example, remains virtually immovable. Most American Jews plan to vote Democratic as they always do, regardless of what the Jewish neoconservatives say.

Muslim and Arab Americans, who largely voted for Bush in 2000, have been deeply disappointed with the president so far. Already, however, there are the barely perceptible signs that Karl Rove, Bush's election-year guru, is making positive moves-but this time Muslim and Arab Americans will have to see the results of their "bloc vote" for Bush before they work as hard as they did in 2000. …

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