Road map to chaos

Posted: Sep 16, 2003 12:00 AM
The ultimatum to Israel is pathetic business and will be laughed out of court in the Mideast and elsewhere. Says great big Uncle Sam to Gen. Ariel Sharon: For every mile you extend your wall, we'll deduct the cost of that construction from the money we are paying you. The invocation of an economic perspective in the matter of the Israeli wall is road-map trivialization. It is on the order of informing the Soviet Union, in August 1961, that we would put in a claim for the cost of the Berlin Wall. What is now inconceivable, in terms of national pride, is that Sharon will interrupt the construction of the wall, which is costing $2 million per mile.

Mr. Bush's road map has evolved as a great fiasco. If the administration was not willing to see the plan through, it should not have been promulgated. The United States has for decades declined to specify the terms of an Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement, though our see-through alliance with Israel has been obvious and steadfast.

What happened after the abandonment of the Oslo accords was a departure in U.S. policy. The president declared that the U.S. was prepared to recognize a Palestinian state provided that the two sides made certain concessions. Prime Minister Abbas was to take action against the Hamas terrorists, and Israel was to evacuate the West Bank, while taking appropriate steps to assure its security.

All three sides to the intended reforms were delinquent:

(1) Abbas did not move against the terrorists. The only way to do this would have been to defy Arafat, who has the backing of the 7,000-man elite security force, as also the backing of the Palestinian "street." Abbas would have precipitated a civil war if he had moved effectively on the terrorist organizations.

(2) Israel did practically nothing in the matter of the settlements. Sharon will not abandon the irredentist wing of his supporters in the Knesset and elsewhere, men and women who see the West Bank as a part of the land of Zion, to say nothing of the 200,000 Israelis who live in the settlements.

(3) And the United States exerted no substantial pressure on either party. Minor concessions were made, as when the Israeli defense forces permitted one gateway through the fence to permit Palestinian children in one town to pass through to their school, otherwise requiring a one-hour commute through a maze of concrete and barbed wire.

The analyst for The New Republic adds to the despair he feels over the disintegration of the road map the matter of a U.S. election coming up. If we can understand that Sharon can't make his way around the right wing that refuses to compromise on the settlements, we should be able to understand that a president seeking re-election is not likely to act in such a way as to put U.S. loyalty to Israel into question. Howard Dean was all but eaten alive when he suggested that pressure should be imposed equally on Israel and Palestine to get on with a working modus vivendi.

What might an American government do? The idea of a fence -- a wall -- is understandable, even commendable. An Israeli official has said, Look, we have had no terrorist penetrations where the wall is built! But the question isn't the wall; it is the shape of the wall. As projected, and already in part erected, it makes enclaves of the settlements so brusque as to leave some Palestinian farmers removed from their own land. What is inconceivable, given the design of the wall, is any future Palestinian state contiguous in shape. And the implications of it invoke apartheid, either an immobilization of the Palestinian world, or its assimilation in subordinate civil status.

But if real pressure were put on Israel to retrench on the settlements, what could the United States offer? Quite a lot. A guarantee of the survival of Israel. This can't mean the end of terrorist activity. Nothing can ensure that, but it is best confronted with a confidence that justice is being sought.