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March 19, 2003

Road map Must Show the Way to Real Peace

By: Dr. Saeb Erekat*

President George W. Bush announced on Friday that he would soon issue the long delayed "road map" to peace in the Middle East. While the Palestinians welcome any initiative aimed at ending nearly 36 years of military occupation, for any road map to be successful, it must clearly spell out the destination - two secure and independent states of Israel and Palestine based on a complete Israeli withdrawal from all Palestinian territory occupied since 1967 and a just and agreed resolution to the plight of Palestinian refugees. A road map that fails to indicate a destination is by definition not a road map at all.

To be credible, the US must actually implement the road map, not simply issue another draft and allow it to be delayed by endless Israeli demands and conditions. We do not need another Mitchell report - accepted in theory but negotiated by Israel to the point of irrelevance. We Palestinians must be forgiven if we appear impatient with a peace process that has proven long on process but short on peace.

We have been down this road before. In 1993, the Palestinians signed the Oslo Accords, which promised a gradual end to Israel's occupation. But the Accords failed to address the end goal and were undermined by an undeniable lack of Israeli goodwill. While Israel was ostensibly negotiating its withdrawal from occupied Palestinian territory, it actually intensified the occupation by doubling the number of settlers living in the West Bank (including occupied East Jerusalem).

The Oslo process limited our freedom of movement, confining us to 13 separate reservations. Our holy sites in East Jerusalem were declared off limits. Home demolitions continued unabated, clearing the way for "settler only" by-pass roads built in the heart of Palestinian territory. All these were justified to an increasingly sceptical Palestinian population as temporary measures of a "peace process" promising freedom but delivering the opposite. Unsurprisingly, Palestinians grew disillusioned and we still are. Israel has declared war on a captive population. The international community has remained largely silent, only occasionally issuing the requisite reprimands for "excessive force" by the Israelis but doing nothing to stop it. The US washed its hands of the conflict, but not so much so that it stopped financing Israel's settlements or supplying the F-16s jets and Apache helicopters used against Palestinian civilians.

Consequently, many Palestinians justifiably question whether Mr Bush's announcement is merely tossing them a bone in a cynical effort to appear even-handed days before a strike on Iraq. He must offer more than questionably timed announcements. The road map must stop the most egregious manifestation of Israel's occupation: the building of settlements in violation of international law and United Nations resolutions, and reducing the possibility of a viable two-state solution. A road map that allows Israel to continue building illegal settlements is a road map we have already followed under the Oslo Accords and we all know where that has led.

In addition, the road map must have a credible enforcement mechanism. Without neutral third parties monitoring compliance, Israel as the stronger party will, as it has in the past, reserve the right to act as judge, jury and executioner. And the measures used to enforce Israeli compliance with the road map must be significantly more effective than the non-existent measures used to force Israeli compliance with UN resolutions.

The Palestinians are willing to do their share, and have already started. We have nominated a prime minister, we have undertaken reforms for greater government transparency and we have tried to convince militant opposition groups that violence only serves Israel's purposes. But let us not delude ourselves that any of these measures will convince the Palestinian people to live submissively under a foreign military occupation.

Israel now has the most extreme right-wing government in its history. Many ministers have publicly opposed the very purpose of the road map: Palestinian freedom and independence. Some cabinet ministers advocate the "ethnic transfer" of the Palestinian population. A similar group leading any other government would have sparked international outrage and calls for isolation. But Israel has come to expect the double standards from which it benefits. And no doubt, it expects to benefit from the road map in the same way.

*The writer is the chief Palestinian negotiator and PNA cabinet minister

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