One of the important attributes of the road map, submitted last Thursday to the Israeli and Palestinian governments, is that it can force both parties to unveil their hidden agendas and make them confront the core of the dispute.
At the heart of the dispute is the Israeli demand that the Palestinians acknowledge Israel's right to exist within safe, recognized borders, and the Palestinians' demand that Israel acknowledge their right to establish a sovereign, viable state.
These legitimate mutual claims were dimmed over the years, because they were enveloped in coats of concomitant expectations that in turn gave rise to further interests and goals. On the Israeli side, a distorted enthusiasm for annexing the territories taken in the Six-Day War has developed; one of the manifestations of this distortion was the misguided decision to build settlements throughout these areas. On the Palestinian side, the legitimate demand for self-determination was warped by the aspiration to get rid of any Israeli presence; one of the manifestations of this anomaly is the insistence on exercising the right of return within Israel.
The Oslo Accords were a big step in helping both sides to overcome inhibitions and start open talks, as both parties acknowledged the other's right to self-determination; but this agreement failed bitterly in breaking the psychological hurdles separating them, because it allowed them to pursue their concomitant goals (which in some ways have taken center stage): Israel did that by advancing the settlements and forcing its designs on the Palestinian population; and the Palestinians did it by resorting to terrorism and educating the younger generation to hate Israel and seek its annihilation.
There is no symmetry in the responsibility of the parties for the bloody dead end to which the relations have come, and each has its own version as to the causes. But it would not be unreasonable to state that Israel's refusal to give up the territories is the pivotal reason why it has been unable to reach an arrangement with the Palestinians, just as the Palestinians' dream of uprooting the Zionist entity from the Middle East and returning to the places where their forefathers lived before 1948 was their main contribution to the failure.
The road map was put forth when both parties are already bearing the scars of the failed Camp David Summit of July 2000, the murderous Palestinian intifada that started thereafter, the Israeli military response to terror, and in the wake of various international mediation attempts, internal changes on both sides and the new reality created by the United States in Iraq.
The map aligns a clear direction with a well-defined timetable for gradually subduing the violent conflict and refocusing on the crux of the matter: the parties' willingness to compromise so as to guarantee their right to unthreatened sovereignty. The success of this diplomatic effort depends, to a great extent, on the parties' readiness to abandon their hidden agendas.
The document translates President Bush's vision of June 2002 into practicable instructions. Although Israel questions the correlation between the road map and the president's original speech, and on some matters is right in doing so (for example, Israel's demand to strike out the right of return from the Syrian initiative drafted at the Arab League Summit is completely justified), the plan's major advantage cannot be overstated: it gives balanced attention to the main components of the conflict, offers a practical solution and guarantees international supervision to oversee implementation.
The road map defines a goal that any Israeli would have warmly embraced before 1967: a comprehensive agreement with the Arab world and ending the conflict with the Palestinian people. It also promises the Palestinians a viable state. To accomplish these goals, both sides must leave their concomitant agendas behind.
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