Time for the U.S. to step up
Immediate economic aid and a personal demonstration of support for Abbas are necessary from Washington now, no less than they are necessary from Israel. Without that, Bush's road map could gather dust in the drawers for years to come. Without that, there is no meaning to an American commitment.
President Bush celebrated the second anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein 10 days ago. In another month he'll be able to mark another two-year anniversary: the Aqaba summit that launched the road map, another monument meant to symbolize an uncontrollable American itch on a political path that has led to nothing.
The road map's stature nowadays is a little similar to that of a goblin on an amusement park ride. It could pop out at any moment, but everyone knows it is only for a moment, only frightens the children and then disappears. Bush's America does not have a real peace-making policy but rather conducts crisis management, and even that isn't exactly a policy. Since the Aqaba summit, the administration has not registered a single initiative of its own. The disengagement initiative is Israeli, and the cease-fire is a Palestinian-Egyptian initiative. The attempt to promote a pan-Arab peace with Israel is Jordanian and Saudi Arabian, and Bush meanwhile continues to recite the worn out phrase, "We're committed to the road map."
What exactly does that American commitment mean? What are the Americans supposed to do in its framework? According to the document, the Palestinians are committed to "an unconditional end to the violence," renewal of the security cooperation with Israel, and comprehensive political reforms in preparation for the establishment of a state, including free and open elections.
Israel for its part is supposed to help ease the conditions for Palestinian lives, withdraw from Palestinian territories it has held since September 28, 2000 (the start of the intifada), and freeze all settlement activity. And that's only in the first stage of the road map.
The U.S., together with the EU, Russia and the UN, are supposed to monitor and make sure that the steps dictated by the road map are taken, and that the conditions have ripened to the next step, which is the preparations for the establishment of a democratic, independent, Palestinian state.
Arafat's departure from the scene and the free election of Mahmoud Abbas were supposed to give the PA one semester's report card, the quiet and prevention of attacks on Israel was supposed to be another, and the end of the incitement on PA TV as well as Abbas' declaration of an end to the armed struggle were - at the very least - supposed to make the Quartet, led by the U.S., make clear what and how much the Palestinians had accomplished out of all the tasks imposed on them by the road map.
At the same time, the American administration was supposed to make clear its position regarding Israel's share. Does the correction Bush added to the road map - saying that the final status agreement will have to take into account the changes that took place on the ground during the years of occupation - mean a sweeping approval of continued construction in the settlements in the territories?
Seemingly, there is an understanding that the administration won't bother Sharon as long as he is busy with the disengagement plan. That's why nobody is talking about the illegal outposts, which the road map says should be removed in the first stage; nobody in Washington is pressing for a cessation of the construction in the territories, also demanded by the road map, as well as the return of Israeli forces to the pre-intifada lines, or that the return of control over the Palestinian cities to the PA is not progressing. Bush's own commitments to the road map are not even mentioned.
Is that all there is to Washington's role? The Palestinians are heading into parliamentary elections, which could result in a new balance of forces in the PA. It's not only the question of who will head the PA and who will be its finance minister, but how much power Hamas and rejectionists will have in the new parliament.
The question will also determine the spirit of the new Palestinian constitution and the character of the Palestinian state. To reach the desirable results, it is necessary for the administration to enlist in the cause to help Abbas and his government, no less than Israel. Immediate economic aid and a personal demonstration of support for Abbas are necessary from Washington now, no less than they are necessary from Israel. Without that, Bush's road map could gather dust in the drawers for years to come. Without that, there is no meaning to an American commitment.