Avoiding Yesterday’s Mistakes in Israel-Palestine Peace

The Road Map to Peace attempted to avoid the problems that the Oslo Accords had encountered.

The Road Map, a 2003 diplomatic
initiative aimed at jumpstarting the peace process between Israeli and Palestinians,
consisted of three phases. Both sides–Israelis and Palestinians–got bogged down in Phase One. In the following article, the author analyzes the goals of the Road Map and offers his own opinion on why more progress was not made.

The Road Map may be viewed as the first serious Middle East peace initiative since the Oslo Accords of 1994. Oslo, as the agreement was known, collapsed in the ill-fated Camp David summit of July 2000, which precipitated the fighting of the Intifada. A careful reading of the Road Map indicates that its organizers attempted to learn from the experience of the Oslo framework efforts and shift emphases accordingly. 

Oslo’s Assumptions

The framers of the Oslo agreements based themselves on several assumptions that proved problematic. Foremost among them was the supposition that the step-by-step process itself would yield improvements in the lives of Palestinians and Israelis. Over time, the reasoning went, both sides would experience an upward spiral of confidence, enabling negotiators to proceed more readily at each stage to tackle more difficult and divisive issues. Oslo supporters also assumed that the very creation of a Palestinian Authority would bring about a Palestinian leadership with an interest in containing violent Islamic movements.

israel-palestineThe importance of the appearance of progress was so important to the creators of the Oslo agreement that they initially resisted suggestions that violations of the accords be categorized and publicized.

The Reality

The sad reality was a downward spiral. The Palestinian Authority founded by Yassir Arafat proved to be a corrupt entity that failed to establish the stable institutions a modern state requires while wasting immense sums of money donated by Western countries. The living standards of average Palestinians dropped in the years following the signing of the Oslo agreement. This, coupled with the fact that Israel continued to expand settlement activity at a rapid pace, caused many Palestinians to consider themselves swindled.

At the same time, the ineffective security services of the Palestinian Authority did little to curb violent terrorist groups, who rode waves of public incitement against Israel to gain widespread popular support for their actions. As the average Israeli felt his or her personal security at increasing risk, confidence in Oslo plummeted as well.

The Road Map’s Differences

The Road Map attempted to address many of these issues directly. From the start, it described itself as “performance based … with clear timelines,” signaling organizers’ impatience with violations and stalling.

While the Oslo agreements had been vague on the question of the ultimate creation of a Palestinian state, the Road Map explicitly endorsed “a two-state solution” involving the creation of an “independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state.” The qualifiers preceding the words “Palestinian state” are not arbitrary: “independent’ signals a state with stable institutions, “democratic” implies a state very different from the autocratic Palestinian Authority, while “viable” is a hint that Israel was expected to grant the Palestinian state sufficient territorial contiguity and access to resources.

The framers of the Road Map also did not shrink from placing demands on both sides. From the Palestinians, the plan states that a solution to the conflict can only be attained “by an end to violence and terrorism, when the Palestinian people have a leadership acting decisively against terror and willing and able to build a practicing democracy.” From the Israelis, it demands “Israel’s readiness to do what is necessary for a democratic Palestinian state to be established.”

The Quartet– the European Union, the U.N. Secretariat, Russia, and the United States, which together form the leading diplomatic grouping working toward a Mideast peace settlement–intended to open a new page in the peace process with the Road Map. However, the fundamental stumbling block, which no side has yet managed to overcome, remains the fact that without strong action to restrain militant terrorist groups, no stability leading to negotiations is possible.

The failure of the Palestinian Authority’s leaders to achieve such restraint–indeed the general weakness of the “new Palestinian leadership” envisioned by the framers of the Road Map–has to date been a disappointment to American and Israeli officials.  The process faltered before it had barely begun.

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