The fifth anniversary of the internationally sponsored roadmap to Palestinian-Israeli peace coincided with an unusual period of intense references to it by politicians and leaders.
During both the visit to Washington of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last week and the current visit to the region of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice attention was focused on the details of the roadmap, which, when it was drafted, enjoyed the support of almost every single country in the world.
And yet there is no sign of it being implemented.
It was very clear from Abbas’ words and evident frustration in Washington after meeting US President George W. Bush last week that the Palestinian side expects Washington to seriously apply itself to implementing the roadmap. While there are obligations on both sides in the roadmap, Abbas was referring specifically to those on Israel, in particular the obligations to end settlement expansion and disband those settlements known as settlement outposts.
In addition, the roadmap considers the 1967 lines as the border between Israel and the future state of Palestine, calling explicitly for an end to the occupation that started in 1967. During his visit to Washington, Abbas asked Bush to help ensure that at this stage at least one roadmap obligation be imposed on Israel: either the US guarantees a cessation of settlement expansion or it extracts from Israel an agreement that the 1967 borders be cemented as the future border between the two states.
Abbas’ main argument was, first, that these are two explicit obligations under the roadmap and, second, that if Israel neither recognizes the border of 1967 nor is willing to stop the consolidation of the occupation in the shape of expanding illegal settlements, then the whole negotiations process becomes meaningless. From Abbas’ point of view that will not only undermine the opportunity for peace this year, it will undermine the Palestinian leadership, which has closely associated itself with this process.
The outcome of that will be a further increase in support for Hamas in the occupied Palestinian territories and a strengthening of the position of fundamentalist Islamic movements in the region generally.
On her current visit, meanwhile, Rice again called on the sides to honor their obligations under the roadmap. Gently, rather than forcefully, she indicated the dangers of the Israeli settlement policy by referring to it as "politically problematic". She also referred to the need for Israel to fulfill other obligations under the roadmap by removing the obstacles to movement of Palestinians and Palestinian goods in the West Bank. These restrictions are considered, in the most recent World Bank report to the donors conference in London last week, as the main impediment to economic recovery.
After the recent success of the Palestinian Authority in showing progress fulfilling its security obligations under the roadmap, the Palestinian side feels more confident in complaining against Israeli breaches of the roadmap and the Americans are more willing to listen. Both Israeli and Palestinian security assessments have confirmed that the PA’s security sector reform has proceeded and that there has been tangible progress in enforcing law and order.
The police reinforcements sent to Jenin last week after 500 policemen finished training shows that the earlier success in Nablus was part of a systematic improvement in the security performance of the PA. At the same time, both Palestinian and Israeli security analysts have expressed satisfaction with the amnesty program that incorporated certain Palestinian armed groups in the West Bank. Particularly successful was the integration of those groups into the security services, a program that proved more efficient than the previous Israeli approach of collective punishment and brutal violence.
But the political process is at a crossroads. If the US does not start to show greater urgency and seriousness in its role as monitor of the two sides’ implementation of their obligations under the roadmap, thereby continuing to allow Israel to violate its obligations, the process will come to an end, and a potentially catastrophic one. If the political process is ground down, the consequences will be a further shift in the balance of power in Palestinian society away from the peace camp and an increase in the level of violence, not only between Israelis and Palestinians, but between Palestinians and Palestinians.