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Israelis skeptical road map to peace can work

LBy Martin J. Sweet Last month, when former Iraqi Information Minister Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf boldly proclaimed U.S. troops had been drummed out of Baghdad with U.S. tanks in plain sight, the secret to understanding Israel’s plight under the proposed “road map to peace” came to the fore. Israel’s resistance to President George W. Bush’s proposed plan comes not from any aversion to peace with its neighbors, but rather from the years of experience of dealing with a dishonest Palestinian regime.

For decades, Palestinian leadership – Yasser Arafat – has boldly proclaimed Palestinian commitment to peace with Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists operating in plain sight. Tragically, Arafat’s lies have become accepted as truth by much of the old European press and pockets of the American public. Without credible leadership on board for the Palestinians, the road map promises to be nothing more than another failed peace initiative.

Certainly one could laud Bush for attempting to put an end to the intractability of the Mideast “situation.” But we ought to recognize the very limited chances that the road map has for success. It is not that the Bush proposal, by itself, is particularly objectionable to the Israelis. In fact, new settlement cessation and Palestinian statehood recognition are widely seen by Israelis as inevitable and worthy goals.

Yet despite agreement with the contours of the peace plan, the Bush proposal stands little chance of making inroads with the Israeli government or its people. Israelis simply want to maintain the existence of the Jewish state. And Israelis and Bush understand that fundamentally, Israeli security can not be guaranteed by the mere signing of a piece of parchment by Arafat or new Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen.

Historically, the Palestinian regime has had no compunction about simultaneously agreeing to peace and then trying to destroy the state of Israel. Arafat agrees to disarm the terrorists, yet funds a new shipload of arms to his brigades of murderers. Arafat agrees to arrest the terrorists, yet opens the back door to the jails.

Those who believe the road map is a tenable solution might point out Bush’s involvement is an important new signal peace is at hand, and Mazen might not be as “truthfully challenged” as Arafat. It is possible those factors could change the outcome of this peace effort. Perhaps Bush can persuade Mazen to abandon the long history of Palestinian terrorism. Yet Bush’s longtime reluctance to becoming involved in the “situation” might allay some of those thoughts. And while Mazen remains an open question, his well-known minimization of the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust does not exactly inspire confidence.

One can always hope the upcoming trilateral conference among Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Mazen results in solid progress on the road map. Yet without the Palestinians delivering an honest broker to the process, the best that can be said is that we have been down this road before.

Martin J. Sweet is an assistant professor of political science at Dickinson College.

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