Naomi Chazan
Middle East Times (Opinion)
May 19, 2008 - 5:50pm

The "Performance-Based Road Map to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict" highlights both the good intentions and the misplaced conceptions of its promulgators. Five years after its adoption, it lingers not as a tool for the achievement of a sustainable agreement but as a burdensome impediment to its realization.

The road map was construed as a decidedly goal-oriented document. Substantively, it corrected the most glaring lacuna of the Oslo process by explicitly defining the destination of diplomatic efforts: "the emergence of an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state [that] ... will resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and end the occupation that began in 1967."

Strategically, however, it was flawed from the outset. It sought to correct, but not to diverge from, the step-by-step approach undertaken in Oslo by setting out distinct phases, compressed timetables, clear benchmarks and visible monitoring mechanisms (overseen by the international community in the form of the Quartet).

The built-in conditionalities on progress, coupled with the loose dependence on "the good faith of the parties," meant that it was doubtful – if not thoroughly unrealistic – to expect that the chosen route could lead to the desired destination. Despite the shift in the locus of decision-making from the parties themselves to global actors, the reluctance of Israeli and Palestinian officials to agree to the road map's main provisions, along with the numerous reservations they attached, is testimony to the unease with which it was greeted.

Since its inception, the road map has been stuck in its first phase, ostensibly aimed at enhancing security, improving the humanitarian situation, fortifying Palestinian institutions and halting all settlement activity. Indeed, the obstacles strewn on the tortuous path to the two-state objective have become increasingly daunting, effectively transforming the task of overcoming them into an aim in itself rather than a means to its attainment.

Conceptually, then, the phased approach has, for the second time since 1993, failed to stand the test of time. Its underlying logic is inherently faulty.

First, it assumes symmetry in Palestinian and Israeli capacities when the formal standing of the two sides differs dramatically and asymmetry reigns.

Second, it presumes that the creation of a supportive environment is conducive to diplomatic progress when in all probability amelioration of conditions on the ground is an outcome rather than a prerequisite of successful talks.

Third, it relies on stringent verification and oversight mechanisms when the willingness of international actors to employ these tools has been consistently lacking.

Fourth, it hopelessly conflates objectives and means, making forward movement on a pre-set trajectory more important than the fulfillment of its ultimate purpose.

Finally, and most seriously, it holds final-status negotiations hostage to the purveyors of violence by granting them veto power over the diplomatic process.

Thus, ironically, the phased strategy ingrained in the road map – precisely because it dictated a series of steps necessary for the commencement of permanent settlement talks – enabled the pursuit of unilateral measures fundamentally antithetical to a negotiated resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's one-sided disengagement from Gaza was undertaken within this rubric; so, too, was the construction of the security barrier. The road map, in sharp contrast to its declared brief, gradually became an unconscious instrument for the legitimization of unilateralism.

The striking drawbacks of the road map did not, however, lead to its abandonment. The Annapolis meeting in November 2007 not only resurrected the outdated document; it embraced its weakest component. The bilateral permanent settlement talks were (much in line with the third phase of the road map) detached from its confining framework, as were the accompanying multilateral economic and institution-enhancing measures. But the implementation of the initial phase of the road map was reincorporated into the three-track package under the direct supervision of the United States. It was thus relegated not only to a secondary – facilitating – role; it was also stripped of its stated purpose.

The remnants of the impracticable course charted by the road map, far from being jettisoned in the last-ditch effort to bring about a two-state solution by agreement, may yet lay the foundation for the achievement of a long-term ceasefire. Thus, should this endeavor survive, it would do so as an exercise in conflict management, in direct contradiction to its professed aim of resolving the conflict.

The road map, in retrospect, stands as a monument to the inadequacies of incrementalism. Designed as a guiding compass leading to a two-state outcome, it has been increasingly utilized as a diversion from this goal, rendering it palpably self-defeating. This transmutation offers further testimony – if such is still needed – to the strategic misconceptions that have accompanied Israeli-Palestinian initiatives to date.

Clearly, no interim measures, no consecutive phases, no step-by-step approach can act as a substitute for full-scale negotiations on all outstanding issues. Without a substantial conceptual shift, along with the reverse engineering it entails, the promise embedded in the road map may become the victim of its pitfalls.


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