Commentary: 'Road map' or road rage?

By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI Editor at Large   |   May 19, 2003 at 8:33 PM
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WASHINGTON, May 19 (UPI) -- President Bush's "road map" for peace between Palestinians and Israelis was for a road that is no longer on the map. Only the irredeemably myopic can't see that the Bush administration is incapable of being even handed between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel has asked the United States for an additional $1 billion to its annual grant of $3 billion, and $10 billion to $12 billion in loan guarantees and credits. No member of the U.S. Congress would dare suggest that this generous package be subject to conditions. Imagine the Palestinians asking for a tiny fraction of this amount no questions asked. The Congress would rise up unanimously against such a giveaway.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is building a security wall through the Palestinian territories that expropriates yet more land -- without so much as an angry word from the Bush mapmakers. The fundamental issue of getting Israel back to its pre-1967 borders, with a few minor adjustments in its favor, to give the Palestinians a viable state has been taken off the table by Sharon without so much as a diplomatic squawk from the White House.

Sharon, who has just postponed his eighth private meeting with Bush, is this administration's closest ally after British Prime Minister Tony Blair. What Sharon calls the need for "painful sacrifices" is putting an end to new Israeli settlements in the West Bank and, down the road to nowhere, dismantling a few of the 145 settlements in the occupied territories. Some of Sharon's friends and admirers are talking up again an over-the-horizon Palestinian state in present-day Jordan whose population is 60 percent to 65 percent Palestinian.

Sharon's idea of a peace process is a succedaneum for war process. Israel's leading newspaper Ha'aretz wrote that hard-line generals "in and out of uniform" now dominate Sharon's inner circle of policymakers. "Jane's Foreign Report," an authoritative intelligence weekly, says these generals -- Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon, and Amos Gilad, chief of the new political security department at the Defense Ministry -- want to crush the Palestinians militarily and expand the land under their control in the occupied territories.

"Civilians -- and civil worldviews -- have been totally excluded from any involvement or influence in the diplomatic process," according to Ha'aretz.

Whichever way they slice it, the Palestinians cannot see the makings of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, dotted as it would be by Israeli settlements with inter-connecting security roads under Israeli sovereignty. The danger with Bush's "road map" is road rage.

Palestinian militants -- Hamas, Islamic Jihad, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the Syrian-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Lebanon-based, Syrian- and Iranian-backed Hezbollah -- are now focused entirely on a one-state solution between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea -- their own.

Mahmoud Abbas, the new Palestinian prime minister, is well regarded in both Jerusalem and Washington, but few believe he has the clout to bring terrorists to heel. More promising, they think, is Mohammed Dahlan, the security chief in the new Palestinian Cabinet.

Dahlan's mission is to crush Palestinian terrorists in what could turn out to be a Palestinian civil war. If he succeeds, he would hold a strong hand in subsequent negotiations with the Israelis. But Dahlan's security forces have seen their weapons gradually confiscated during Intifada II.

Dahlan made his mark as a street fighter in Intifada I between 1987 and 1993 and was appointed head of Yasser Arafat's Preventive Security Service in the Gaza strip. He fell out with Arafat a year ago and the two clashed again when Abbas insisted on putting him in charge of all Palestinian security services.

Bitter wrangling went on for two weeks until Arafat backed down -- though not completely. Arafat emerged from the fracas still in command of four, possibly five, Palestinian security services -- Force 17, which is Arafat's praetorian guard; General Intelligence; Military Intelligence; and National Security Forces.

On Dahlan's side are a disarmed police force and a counter-intelligence network -- hardly a full quiver to take on the terrorists. Arafat has also neatly blocked his rival by padding the ranks of the 20,000-strong Interior Ministry with his Fatah cronies.

Sharon is determined to hang tough until Dahlan prevails. This could be a long wait. Meanwhile, terrorist bombings followed by Israeli assassinations of militant leaders, followed by more terrorist bombings, blur into an infernal cycle.

The alternative Bush strategy to democratize Iraq and thus trigger a democratic revolution in the Arab world that would ensure a decade or two of security for Israel appears to have encountered unexpected roadblocks.

Road maps anyone?

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