Here's a report that appeared in Haaretz on Passover eve last year, following a series of meetings between the prime minister's bureau chief, Dov Weisglass, and U.S. administration heads in Washington regarding the road map peace plan: "A reservation passed on by Dov Weisglass stated that Israel wants the map to constitute a true reflection of the president's vision and not make any reference to the Saudi initiative that was adopted by the Arab League."
In an official announcement published just hours before the reading of the Haggadah, Weisglass confidently stated that "the United States will seriously consider our position when the process moves forward."
The political process indeed did move forward, as did the military process in Iraq. President George W. Bush seriously considered Israel's positions, as well as those of his Quartet partners, and submitted the road map. Not only did the important document mention the Saudi initiative, but also it specifically stated that the initiative is "a vital component in the international efforts to forward comprehensive peace on all tracks."
U.S. support for the Saudi initiative worried Prime Minister Ariel Sharon because of two quintessential clauses it contains - Arab recognition of Israel in return for a withdrawal from all of the territories and an agreed-upon solution to the refugee problem. To erase all doubts, the clause that concludes the road map stipulates that the sides will "reach a final and comprehensive settlement status agreement that ends the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2005, through a settlement negotiated between the parties based on UNSCR 242, 338, and 1397, that ends the occupation that began in 1967, and includes an agreed, just, fair and realistic solution to the refugee issue."
Despite these words of heresy, which recall, oh my God, the Geneva understandings, Sharon and his spokespeople don't cease to swear in the name of the road map. Surely they haven't missed the fact that its principles do not fall in line with the current spin - that as a gesture in return for a withdrawal from Gaza, the United States will commit themselves to supporting "settlement blocs" and opposing the return of refugees to Israel. It's hard to believe that the prime minister and his attorney haven't noticed that in accepting the road map, Israel has taken upon itself a political process that is based on negotiations between the sides, international conferences headed by the Quartet, and binding agreements. All these do not sit well with the principle of one-sidedness on which the Gaza Strip disengagement plan is based.
Sharon is repeating the Sharon legends for Passover. He is once again pinning his hopes on "the special relations" with the United States, on Jewish-Christian politics, and on Weisglass' stories about the wonderful friendship that has developed between himself and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. If in the spring of 2003, the United States invaded Iraq without the support of the European Union and thumbed its nose at the UN, then in order to walk away from there with dignity, the presidential candidate Bush cannot afford to forgo the Quartet. So, just as Sharon has called on Likud members to decide the fate of the disengagement plan, Bush summoned the Quartet members for a discussion on the road map's fate.
The Quartet held three working session in the last 10 days of March - in Cairo, Washington and Brussels. The understandings reached at these meetings turn the disengagement plan into a myth. The guiding principle coming out of these meetings states that every effort must be made to ensure that for residents of the territories, Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is a remedy for the trauma of the intifada, an incentive for reconciliation with Israel, and a renewal of the hope for a completion of the national liberation. The Quartet will carry over the plan for the rehabilitation of Afghanistan to Gaza, and will pump billions of dollars into the Strip.
To ensure that Israel's occupation does not clear the path for a regime of Islamic fundamentalists and gangs of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, it was agreed that most efforts should be directed toward strengthening the pragmatic forces among Palestinian Authority leadership. Israel will be required to enter into a dialogue with it, and the UN Security Council will determine if Israel has indeed completed the withdrawal from Gaza. And finally, the United States again undertook to stick to the road map's central principle: Any dispute (borders, refugees, Jerusalem) will be settled by a binding agreement between the government of Israel and the government of Palestine.
All the rest is Sharon legends for Passover.
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