The new US "road map" for peace in the Middle East presented by US Assistant Secretary of State William J. Burns is no more than a placebo for consumption by both Palestinians and the world community in response to their pressuring Israel for positive movement toward immediately ending the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. It is also perhaps an attempt to somehow justify Bush's planned road trip to/through Iraq.
Doctors often prescribe placebos to patients that they feel are suffering from ailments that are not necessarily physiological, hoping that the patient will think that the medicine contains some active ingredient that will cure their ailments. Such medication may have been believed successful during the Oslo Peace Accords, but the latest 25-months of bloodletting has done additional physical damage to Palestinian rights, and thus, any treatment must be real and immediate.
The draft details of the new "road map" that have been made public are so bizarre that it is a wonder that it is being presented at all. The US plan makes no mention of dismantling the illegal settlements (it only speaks of recently established "outposts"), and the plan will leave in place three Palestinian West Bank cantons or Bantustans (aside from the Gaza Strip) surrounded by Israeli troops, with full Israeli control of the roads and highways.
In fact there is nothing new about the "road map" (if it can even be called that). It is essentially the revival, with several insignificant changes, of the failed Tenet, Zinni and Mitchell Plans. The issue of Jerusalem and any discussion of the right of return of Palestinian refugees is left for later stages. The plan gives more attention to what Palestinians must "reiterate" and how Palestinians must re- elect and restructure their internal political life than it does to the gross and blatant violations Israel has been perpetrating on a daily basis for over 35 years now. The "road map" is a step backward to the pre Madrid/Oslo period. It pretends that nothing has happened in the past 10 years, let alone the last two years.
The "road map" reduces the just Palestinian struggle for self-determination and independence to an item whose outcome is to be decided by a self-proclaimed set of mediators known as the "Quartet" the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia. The "road map" ignores the fact that the resolution of the Palestinian issue is deeply embedded in international law and human rights covenants that already prescribe a clear remedy to the conflict the prompt ending of the Israeli military occupation. Does the US believe that "might is right" and that after Israel has now battered the Palestinians for 24 consecutive months, the Palestinians will simply accept less than what is rightly due to them? Can the US be serious in demanding Palestinian Legislative Council elections while Israel has imprisoned members of that council?
The principles of a possible agreement between Israelis and Palestinians have already been sketched out in numerous UN resolutions (194, 242, 338, and 1397, among others). These resolutions continue to enjoy the full support of the world at large, including the historic official policies of the US and UK. Such an internationally legitimate approach should remain the basis, with possibly some mutually agreed upon minor changes, for any initiative in the area, or rather any initiative with a chance for success. The Israeli retreat to the 1967 borders, the unqualified dismantling of illegal settlements (which apply to all settlements in the Gaza Strip and all settlements East of the 1967 Green Line in the West Bank), honest and creative discussion of the right of return, and the relinquishing control over East Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority or the defacto State of Palestine. These are issues that must be dealt with at the first stage, and not in the form of a "road map" that ignores the basic issues.
What is needed is a shot of legitimate political adrenaline, not a warmed over "road map" that lacks a destination and thus has little chance of success. Placebos, Mr. Bush and Mr. Burns, would work in this case only if the patients were imagining they have been under military occupation for 35 years. One would have to be deaf, dumb and blind to not recognize this "road map", for what is: a pathetic attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the international community.
Mr. Bush and Mr. Burns, your strategic alley in the Middle East has become your strategic liability. It is also terrorizing an entire civilian population. The time has come to abruptly end the occupation and not invest more taxpayer dollars traveling on a road to nowhere.