Viewpoint / Mark Martinez: Middle East Road Map -- route to peace is a rough journey

Sunday June 15, 2003

Every successful trip requires knowledge of road conditions. So it is with the Israeli-Palestinian Authority road map for peace.

Developed by the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia, the road map resurrects former proposals and calls for both sides to act simultaneously but independently of one another. Unfortunately, like previous peace plans, the current road map is incomplete and filled with obstacles that will undermine its promise.

To be sure, there's no doubt the context behind this effort is different. Saddam Hussein, a supporter of Palestinian militants, is out of the picture. Mahmoud Abbas (aka Abu Mazen) has replaced Yasser Arafat. And global public opinion strongly opposes terrorism. However, while the environment for peace has been altered, the path to peace can by diverted by factors supporters have no control over.

To wit, as we have seen over the past week, there's no viable authority on the Palestinian side capable of restraining the armed militias and terror groups in the region. To understand how difficult it is to stop violence with unilateral decrees or individual appeals imagine if President Bush asked inner-city gangs to "stop the violence" (if the reference rings a bell, it's intentional.) As well, Abu Mazen's hands have been tied by a frustrated and jealous Arafat. To regain power many believe Arafat is attempting to undermine Mazen by doing little assuming he actually has influence here to rein in Hamas, Islamic Jihad or Hezbollah.

On another level, while Ariel Sharon painted a picture of conciliation on the occupied territories, those familiar with him know it's better to judge Sharon by his actions, not his words. Keep in mind Sharon was the architect behind the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, arguing after the Six-Day War that Israeli settlements would prevent future agreements with the Arabs (Sharon even attacked Yitzhak Rabin for questioning the utility of occupying territories Israel gained through war.)

Beyond these regional dynamics, the road maps flawed because basic assumptions are both questionable and shaky.

For example, because the road map wasn't negotiated by either party, it can later be labeled as an imposed, rather than negotiated plan. This will especially be the case if one side believes their interests are being negotiated away, or that their actions aren't being reciprocated. As well, the amount of faith placed in Abu Mazen and the decision to ignore Arafat, which might be a good thing in the end could backfire if Mazen isn't seen as credible by radicals or, worse, if Mazen's assassinated. Relatedly, the road map depends primarily on the goodwill of the Palestinian's and the Israeli's, which is in short supply when suicide bombers become active, as we currently are seeing.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle is that for a variety of reasons tied to nationalism, fanaticism, lack of development, etc. the major organized terror groups in the region aren't prepared to abandon armed struggle. These groups have the patience and discipline to wait out diplomatic niceties and are experts at pushing Israel's buttons. Because the road map offers no assistance with education, economic aid or other resources necessary for creating opportunities or building human capital, the patience of committed radicals will wear thin once diplomacy bogs down.

There are additional minefields. British Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush are under fire for manipulating a war against a Muslim nation with false information and exaggerated threats. Whereas George Bush will escape damage Democrats have become quiet stooges, while the media has quit asking serious questions Tony Blair is in trouble. If the British press and Parliament do what their supposed to do, Palestinians will have a field day questioning the West's motives and commitment to Islamic causes.

Finally, we must remember Bush's commitment to the region has always been suspect. From harsh campaign rhetoric to his refusal to discuss the Palestinian issue until Blair forced his hand (he needed political cover back home to support the Iraq war) Bush has demonstrated no real interest in tackling the regions political and economic challenges.

Perhaps most troubling is Bush's emerging election face. Because he'll be unwilling to jeopardize his re-election, electoral politics suggest that Bush will give the road map perhaps nine months before declaring, "we tried ... next war please." His efforts and financial contributions to rebuilding post-Taliban Afghanistan (where many of the mullahs are back in business) and post-war Iraq speak volumes about his vision and commitment to rebuilding the region.

A viable road map requires the following. First, a Marshall Plan type commitment. World War II showed that it's one thing to win a war, but it's quite another to win the peace. Second, supporters need to make a genuine commitment to peacekeeping, which will require substantial forces to maintain stability.

Perhaps a time-sensitive multilateral trusteeship for the Palestinian territories would help serve this purpose. Whatever route is taken, one thing is certain (and a third requirement): We won't win the war on terror without building up the regions social and human capital.

While I'm hopeful age has softened Ariel Sharon, as with previous road maps to peace, this one's littered with too many practical holes and political minefields. This will make it easy for key players to, unfortunately, take the low road.

Mark A. Martinez is an associate professor of political science at Cal State Bakersfield. He teaches American foreign policy and international relations.