To read former AIPAC official Steven Rosen‘s piece in Foreign Policy today is to enter a wonderland. Adding a fun new element to his usual Israelis awesome/Palestinians awful rubric, Rosen writes “The Palestinians deeply distrust interim arrangements, and they have frequently asserted that they will not enter another interim agreement”:
But the Palestinian Authority might not hew to this uncreative position if intelligent American mediation led the way. Abbas accepted the Quartet’s Middle East Roadmap in 2003 knowing that it called very clearly and explicitly for an interim arrangement with a Palestinian state having “provisional borders and attributes of sovereignty … as a way station to a permanent status settlement.” The Roadmap made this interim Palestinian state Phase II of the process, after Phase I (“Ending Terror and Violence, Normalizing Palestinian Life, and Building Palestinian Institutions”) and before Phase III (“Permanent Status Agreement and the End of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.”)… (Palestinian objections to interim agreements have been a continuing feature of Middle East diplomacy, but the record is replete with past examples where they did in fact agree to the step-by-step approach.)
This is quite right, the record is replete with past examples where the Palestinians did in fact agree to the step-by-step approach — and here they are, almost twenty years after the Madrid conference, with no state, and Palestinian land increasingly carved up into an archipelago in a sea of Israeli settlements and security zones. I can’t imagine why the Palestinians would distrust interim arrangements at this point.
Calling on the Obama administration to make use of the the 2003 Road Map, Rosen reminds us that it “is the only document providing a pathway to a Palestinian state ever accepted by all the parties involved in Middle East peace negotiations”:
It was issued by the Quartet, consisting of the United States, the European Union, Russia, and the secretary-general of the United Nations on April 30, 2003. Then it was endorsed unanimously by the U.N. Security Council (including Syria!) in Resolution 1515 on Nov. 20, 2003. It was endorsed again by the Quartet on March 19, 2010. It was accepted “without any reservations” by Abbas at the Middle East peace summit in Aqaba, Jordan on June 4, 2003. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon accepted it on May 23, 2003, and Sharon’s government, by a majority vote, accepted it on May 25, 2003. Both sides are bound by the Roadmap, and it does not require a fresh endorsement by either. It is one of the signed written commitments of the Palestinian government on which the peace process is based today.
I agree with Rosen that the Road Map provides a useful framework for getting peace negotiations back on track. But here’s the thing: So does President Obama. According to Moran Banai, policy director of Middle East Progress, “The Obama administration has been building on the Road Map.” Banai continues:
The whole concept upon which they began their work was, everyone has obligations under the Road Map, everyone committed to it, so everyone should live up to it. That includes Israel’s obligation under the Road Map, to stop building settlements. The Road Map cited the Sharm el-Sheikh committee’s report with regards to this issue, which called for a freeze on all settlement construction, including natural growth. It comes back to what the administration did at first, asking everyone to live up their commitments, which the Palestinians to a great extent have done.
The Israelis, when they accepted the Road Map, did so with reservations, and a main one was, we won’t do anything until the Palestinians get security under control and meet their obligations. Considering the progress that the Palestinians have made on their security forces and on institution-building, the Palestinians have essentially mooted this objection.
Given all this, it’s simply surreal for Rosen to ask whether Obama will “take the advice of the pressure-on-Israel enthusiasts who twice led him into the cul-de-sac of the ‘freeze on natural growth’ of settlements,” as if a “freeze on natural growth” of settlements weren’t itself an Israeli obligation of the Road Map.
Current reports indicate that the parties are “on track” to direct talks. One of the main arguments made by those trying to convince Abbas to agree to negotiations is that it would allow the Palestinians to test Israel’s seriousness. And just as rumors of talks are swirling, there appears to be an effort underway, of which Rosen is a part, to downplay Israel’s responsibilities and minimize what it will agree to, including this sort of talk of another “interim agreement.”
While Israel under Netanyahu has, for the first time, thanks to the Obama administration’s commitment to enforcing the Road Map, taken a step toward meeting its obligation on settlements by implementing a 10-month settlement moratorium (if a largely symbolic one), that moratorium will soon be over, and it’s not clear that Israel has any intention of continuing to meet this obligation. Moreover, it is Israel which is currently opposed to a Quartet statement reiterating those commitments and outlining final status parameters so that the talks can begin.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has his own domestic political pressures to deal with, and so does President Abbas, but it’s silly to pretend, as Rosen would have us do, that the Palestinians don’t have good reasons for resisting the sort of “interim arrangements” that, from their perspective, have in the past only served to facilitate the expansion of Israeli settlements on land that the Palestinians intend for their state. Especially given that Netanyahu himself is on record bragging about his past success in manipulating those arrangements to frustrate progress toward peace.