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The American road map adopted two important principles: stopping the violence and terror alongside stopping the settlements, and negotiations leading to a demilitarized but sovereign Palestinian state, beside a safe Israel. The occupation will cease completely.

It is safe to assume that the guiding principles to the negotiations, when they are resumed, will be largely based on compromises the two sides will make, on the basis of the solutions for the permanent situation discussed in the years 1999 and 2000. But the permanent settlement is still far off, and the ripening process toward it, in view of the tragic reality we live in, will be long. Also, most of the Israeli public has not yet reached the recognition that an Israeli-initiated separation, without an agreement, to the border line and building a political security barrier is vital for Israel's future.

What remains, therefore, is the map. The battered road map deserves the criticism hurled at it and the 14 lukewarm reservations presented by Israel cannot blur its flaws. The map does not include effective mechanisms of enforcement and control, which are essential since the implementation state was the failing point of all the agreements so far. Its timetables are not realistic, it has no clear vision of the permanent settlement and no accurate definitions of the sides' commitments, thus opening the way to crises, controversies and endless disputes between them. This is a loose political document representing the lowest common denominator for minimal agreements.

Yet, the road map is the only mechanism the sides have today to return to normality, after two-and-a-half blood-soaked, exhausting, hopeless years. It is tantamount to a tool the United States gave the parties to extricate each from the other's violent hug. The last chance for the success of the separation that is so vital is in the extent of the third party's involvement in its implementation. There is no one who can lead a supervisory force, which would be accepted by both Israel and the Palestinians, but the United States.

One of the options being examined is setting up an international protectorate on the Palestinian territories and enlarging the international civilian and military presence in the areas Israel will evacuate as part of the road map's implementation.

An international stabilizing force, headed by the United States, which would assume responsibility for the Palestinian territories, would enable Israel to get out of Palestinian population centers in relative safety, even without an agreement.

The force's mission, its composition, structure and operation will be based on the following considerations, among others:

- The mandate, or international protectorate, will apply to the Palestinian territories outlined by the temporary border, which will be determined by the road map.

- A stabilizing international force under U.S. command will be deployed in the Palestinian territories and will maintain a symbolic presence on the Palestinian state's temporary borders. It will assume overall responsibility - security and civilian - and replace both the Israel Defense Forces and the Palestinian Authority until a stable and responsible Palestinian leadership is formed, with effective defense mechanisms.

- The international force will act in cooperation and coordination with the IDF and the relevant Palestinian forces, for effective war against terrorism of all kinds and its infrastructures. It will deal with preventing incitement, dismantling the militias and collecting weapons, and build a central security mechanism that will be able to take responsibility for the security of the region and create conditions for the development of a stable regime.

- In addition, the international force will act, through the central mandate foundation, to rehabilitate the economic infrastructure in the Palestinian territories and to create the basis for civil administration, proper conduct and the rule of law.

Israel will be able to test the model of the international protectorate and an international force while departing first from Gaza, and only afterward apply it to the West Bank.

The role of the international force will be extended beyond the first stage of the road map, which according to the plan should be completed within a few months. It will be a necessary tool to reach agreements and implement them. Its composition and mandate will change according to the needs. At the same time, Israel will formulate its position regarding the presence of an international force of supervisors and inspectors during the permanent period.

Neither Israel nor the Palestinians can carry out most of these tasks without considerable outside help. The solution also applies to an Israeli-initiated separation, in the absence of an agreement with the Palestinians. Before Israel finds itself with useless UN forces here, it had better initiate a dialogue with President Bush on the only way to save the road map from a resounding failure.

(Attorney Gilad Sher was on the negotiating team with the Palestinians in the years 1999 to 2001 and served as head of prime minister Ehud Barak's bureau.)