International Herald Tribune, 16 May 2003
In the poem “The Road Not Taken,” Robert Frost describes
two roads that diverged in the yellow wood and the difficulty he
experienced in deciding which one to take. In the end he chose the one
that perhaps had the better claim because it was grassy and wanted wear
but he agonised, knowing that his choice made all the difference.
Like the narrator of the poem, Palestinians and Israelis face a fork in
the wood -- and the road they choose to take will make all the
Continuing along the road they have been travelling for the last two
and a half years will bring further conflict, suffering, death and
destruction. The other option is to follow the “road map”
devised by the United States, the United Nations, Russia and the
European Union, which promises to lead to an independent Palestinian
state alongside a secure Israel by 2005.
The road map is overwhelmingly favorable to Israel and represents a
victory for the security hawks. It calls on the Palestinians to end the
violence before progress is made on the political front. Israel is not
expected to withdraw its military forces or to impose a freeze on
settlements until Palestinian actions have been verified. The plan is
not an externally imposed solution but a guide to a negotiated
settlement. It bears the hallmarks of the most pro-Israeli White House
in American history.
Most Palestinians welcomed the road map. A day before it was officially
presented, Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, was installed as prime
minister at the head of a reform-minded cabinet that sidelined Yasser
Arafat. Abu Mazen, who had been critical of the intifada from the
beginning, immediately and unambiguously committed his government to
the implementation of the road map. His main problem is opposition from
the militant organizations Hamas and Islamic Jihad, whose leaders said
they would continue the violence until Israel ends its occupation.
In Israel, by contrast, it is the government, led by the Likud Party,
that feels threatened by the road map. Likud’s ideology of a
Greater Israel is simply incompatible with a genuine two-state
solution. The construction of settlements on the West Bank and the
destruction of the infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority have
been the two key elements in Likud’s strategy for undermining the
The Israeli government tried to block the road map from the very
beginning. It won from the Americans three delays in issuing it and
submitted more than a hundred amendments. Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon’s aim is to preserve the status quo, not to change it.
Sharon has no real record of supporting negotiated settlements with any
of Israel’s neighbors. Since Likud first came to power in 1977,
Sharon put all his weight behind the effort to transform the idea of
Greater Israel into a reality by building more and more settlements on
the West Bank. It was not for nothing that he was nicknamed “the
bulldozer.” In his first two years as prime minister, Sharon
built 34 new settlement outposts.
While Sharon is unlikely to abandon his lifelong struggle against a
viable Palestinian state, his tactics have become more sophisticated.
He has repeatedly stated that he would accept a Palestinian state and
that for the sake of peace he is prepared to make painful concessions.
What he envisages, however, is an emasculated and demilitarized
Palestinian entity built on less than half of the land of the occupied
territories, with Israel in control of its borders, airspace and water
resources. This is a recipe for a ghetto, not for a free country.
Sharon’s hidden design is to derail the diplomatic process
initiated by the United States. He wants to make the final status
settlement contingent on a list of conditions so long that settlement
will never be reached.
The road map as it stands is considered by Sharon as tainted by the
influence of the European Union, which he holds in utter contempt. He
knows that Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain is genuinely committed
to the road map and he is consequently determined to neutralize
Blair’s influence. Deep down Sharon believes that President
George W. Bush is only paying lip service to Blair’s views.
In the aftermath of the war with Iraq, the Palestinian question is once
again a key issue in Middle East politics. Once again we are at the
crossroads. There is only one man on earth with sufficient power to
force the bulldozer down the road he does not want to take: the
president of the United States. It remains to be seen, however, whether
Bush will have the courage to save Israel from the folly of its own