The Quartet and the Roadmap
During the war in Iraq, an international Quartet—the United States, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations—came together and met informally to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian issue. President Bush indicated that he would soon offer a specific plan for reinvigorating the peace efforts. In a speech made on June 24, 2002, Bush called for an independent Palestinian state that would coexist peacefully with Israel.
The plan would require the Palestinian Authority to make democratic reforms and renounce terrorism in exchange for statehood. Israel, in turn, would accept a Palestinian state and cease constructing settlements in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.A Roadmap first emerged in September 2002 as a mechanism for implementing Bush’s articulated vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. It provided a timetable for concrete steps with dates for their accomplishment.
As initial hostilities in the war with Iraq drew to a close, the Roadmap emerged as an important element in Israel’s quest for peace and security, but it also portended potential clashes and/or tensions with the Bush administration concerning its content and process. Among Israel’s concerns was the timing of the settlements issue: Sharon sought to deal with them at the end of the process; the Quartet proposed doing so at an initial stage.
Israel was unwilling to accept the Roadmap until the Palestinians prevented terror and ceased violence. Compromises on security were unlikely, and Israel’s definition of security was to be self-determined. Israel also expressed concerns about the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel. Among hard-liners in the government and outside it, the Roadmap, as originally drafted, was referred to as a potential national disaster.
In mid-April 2003, Sharon dispatched several close aides and advisers to Washington, D.C., to consult with the u.S. administration on his reservations and concerns about the Roadmap. Israel wanted references to the 2002 Saudi proposal presented by then Crown Prince Abdullah deleted since it was never formally presented to Israel and included unacceptable elements.
Israel also wanted the Palestinians to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. In addition, some elements were regarded as politically unacceptable because of the “symmetry” in their treatment of Israel and the Palestinians, despite the differences in their status and policies, and others because they reflected, in the eyes of the Israelis, the bias of the other members of the Quartet.
On April 30, 2003, the final version of the long-awaited Roadmap was presented by u.S. ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer to Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and by uN envoy Terje Larsen to the newly chosen Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas. In a formal White House statement, Bush urged Israelis and Palestinians to work “to immediately end the violence and return to a path of peace based on the principles and objectives outlined in my statement of June 24, 2002.”
The aim of the Roadmap was to create by 2005 a viable, independent Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel. It was replete with timelines, target dates, benchmarks, and steps to be taken by the parties to achieve the goals and objectives of security, political, economic, and humanitarian nature. The document was unbalanced in its identification of precise goals and strategies for the two sides. The ultimate Palestinian objective—the end of the Israeli occupation and the establishment of a sovereign, viable, democratic Palestinian state—was clear. The nature of the Palestinian state’s sovereignty, as well as its borders, were not made specific.
The Israeli equivalent was less precise. Israel’s ultimate goal remained its acceptance as a Jewish state living securely in the region, where it is recognized and accepted as such by its Arab neighbors. This would mean an end to violence and recognition of Israel’s Jewish character and would also mean that the Palestinian “right of return” would be relegated to a concept of history and not remain as a viable Palestinian objective.
The Roadmap was constructed without direct input from the parties. It did not contain a design for or the specifics of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace settlement. Its basic concern seemed to be to put the parties on the road from violence to negotiation. To get to its destination, the Roadmap detoured around several central, if not critical, complex, and seemingly irreconcilable issues that were potential deal breakers: Jerusalem, refugees, and settlements.
The Oslo process had not seriously addressed these core issues, saving them for final status negotiations, and ultimately failed because of that approach. The Roadmap made a brief note of all of these, and other, issues but did not deal with them in any meaningful way. Sidelining Arafat and getting power to a relatively more moderate Abbas, however, provided a way to denounce and stop violence and suicide bombings and to stop Palestinian terrorists.
In its preamble, the document made clear that the Palestinian people would need a leadership “acting decisively against terror and willing and able to build a practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty.” The Roadmap also noted that there needed to be “Israel’s readiness to do what is necessary for a democratic Palestinian state to be established.” Both parties had to accept, clearly and unambiguously, a negotiated settlement.
The Quartet would assist and facilitate the implementation of the Roadmap. The settlement would be based on earlier foundations including the Madrid Conference; the principle of land for peace; uN Security Council Resolutions 242, 338, and 1397; agreements previously reached by the parties; and the Abdullah initiative endorsed by the Beirut Arab League Summit.
Abbas as Palestinian Prime Minister
The presentation of the Roadmap to Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) came just hours after he was sworn in as the first Palestinian prime minister and after the latest suicide bomber attack (at a Tel Aviv night spot). On April 29, Abbas and his government were endorsed by the Palestinian parliament by a vote of 51 to 18, with three abstentions.
Abbas was sworn in the next day, the first time that a government was formed by a Palestinian prime minister rather than by Arafat, who was officially the president of the PA. The appointment suggested a potential for change. If Abbas had real power and could make tangible modifications in the situation, his appointment would open up possibilities for movement with the Israelis.
Abbas’s selection came about because of a number of factors, not the least of which was the refusal of Israel and the United States to deal with Arafat and their desire to make him irrelevant in both description and reality. Although Arafat remained the icon of the Palestinian movement and revolution, Palestinian reformers, Israelis, the United States, and the international community all saw the need and value of having Abbas as prime minister for progress to be made on ending corruption, instituting reform, and moving along the peace process.
The critical test of Abbas would be his willingness and ability to crack down on terror and terrorists.In his speech to the Palestinian legislative body, from which he formally derived his position and his power, Abbas denounced terror and noted that weapons must be held only by the Palestinian government, not by independent militia forces. The situation was complicated for Abbas.
If Abbas were to take action against the military groups, he would be seen as a lackey of Israel and the United States, and this would hurt his credibility among the Palestinians and in the broader Arab world. His most immediate task was to deliver tangible improvements for the Palestinians: Their life had to get better; checkpoints needed to be relaxed, other controls lifted; prisoners had to be released, schools reopened; employment possibilities had to grow, and economic conditions had to improve.
Abbas outlined a program of domestic reform and commitment to diplomacy. He demonstrated both loyalty to Arafat and a desire for political change. His commitment to negotiations rather than violence as the path to Palestinian aspirations was punctuated by his assertion of the need to deal with the issue of unauthorized possession of arms and the primacy of the rule of law.
In effect, he suggested that armed struggle should give way to diplomacy as the route to a solution to the Palestinian problem. But, he focused on the requirement for an immediate halt to Israeli settlement activity, especially in and around Jerusalem, and the building of the “separation wall” by Israel. The continuation of the settlements and fence, he argued, could destroy the Roadmap.
The Israeli reaction was mixed but hopeful. Israelis were relieved that Arafat had been “elbowed aside” and that Abbas focused on diplomacy not violence. However, Abbas did not change or give up traditional Palestinian demands, and Arafat continued to wield considerable authority; numerous loyalists were part of Abbas’s government. Arafat also seemed to retain control over the security services. Indeed, it was Arafat who introduced Abbas to the Palestinian representatives when they convened in Ramallah and called on them to vote confidence in the new Abu Mazen government.