Still relevant

As we begin a review of the roadmap’s three phases, it is fascinating to contemplate the enduring relevancy of this document. Back in 2003 when it was introduced, the clear impression of many observers, myself among them, was that the roadmap was stillborn. Palestinian President Yasser Arafat would interfere with the efforts of newly-appointed PM Mahmoud Abbas to restrain Palestinian violence. Israeli PM Ariel Sharon would insist on Palestinian compliance on ceasing violence before he froze settlement construction and removed outposts. US President George W. Bush’s newfound commitment to a proactive role in the peace process seemed largely rhetorical.

And indeed, all the villains in this scenario lived up to worst-case expectations. Nevertheless, something happened. Sharon responded to the roadmap by withdrawing from the Gaza Strip. Arafat passed from the scene and Abbas remains committed to non-violence. Bush responded to the Hamas takeover of Gaza by investing heavily and successfully in helping the Palestinian Authority, now restricted to the West Bank, deliver on its phase I obligations of ending violence and building institutions.

Now along comes a new American president, Barack Obama, and demands that Israel finally seriously fulfill its own phase I obligations regarding settlements. Thus, the roadmap is still with us. And phase I in particular is relevant. It presents a logical checklist of the positive developments that have to take place on both sides in order for any lasting progress toward a two-state solution to be contemplated:

Palestinians immediately undertake an unconditional cessation of violence. . . accompanied by supportive measures undertaken by Israel. Palestinians and Israelis resume security cooperation. . . to end violence, terrorism, and incitement through restructured and effective Palestinian security services. Palestinians undertake comprehensive political reform in preparation for statehood, including drafting a Palestinian constitution, and free, fair and open elections upon the basis of those measures. Israel takes all necessary steps to help normalize Palestinian life. Israel withdraws from Palestinian areas occupied from September 28, 2000 and the two sides restore the status quo that existed at that time, as security performance and cooperation progress. Israel also freezes all settlement activity, consistent with the Mitchell report.

True, the timetables have long since expired and the Palestinian elections produced an unwanted and destructive result. But the contrast between PA and Israeli fulfillment of phase I obligations–or at least serious attempts to fulfill them, however tardily–is striking. In the last two years, the PA has begun solidly delivering on security in the West Bank and building institutions of governance. Israel has done little to stop settlement growth or remove outposts. Nor has a succession of Israeli governments made any move to withdraw to the September 2000 lines or restore the Palestinian institutional status quo in East Jerusalem as phase I demands.

This contrast is all the more striking if we factor in Israel’s insistence, framed in PM Sharon’s 14 point response to the roadmap, that phase I obligations be sequential and not parallel: Israel would fulfill its obligations only after the Palestinians fulfilled theirs. The US and the rest of the Quartet never recognized this Israeli demand, which pointedly contradicts the language of phase I. But even if they were to accept it, Israel still hasn’t complied with regard to settlements and Jerusalem in response to Palestinian security achievements. Only the persistent prodding of the Obama administration has brought a grudging government of Israel to begin dismantling West Bank checkpoints and to contemplate a serious effort to remove outposts.

In its final year in office, the Bush administration orchestrated one major structural adjustment to the roadmap. Under the Annapolis process, Israel and the Palestinians agreed to enter phase III–final status talks–in parallel with phase I undertakings, with the stipulation that implementation of a negotiated peace would await fulfillment of phase I institution-building obligations. Because Israel and the PLO never reached an agreed final status agreement, this arrangement could not be put to the test. But it certainly does not appear to have reduced Palestinian motivation in the West Bank to carry out the institution-building and security tasks outlined in phase I.

Interestingly, Obama’s demands regarding settlements are not presented publicly as a call for Israeli compliance with the roadmap. As we see when we look at phases II and III, the Obama team is fairly closely following the roadmap rulebook even as it officially ignores that document and embraces a regional, comprehensive approach. Presumably, it wants to avoid being tainted by what appears to be its predecessor’s failure in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

Yet it’s all there in the roadmap.