TOPICS > Politics

Iraq: Reading the Road Map

September 8, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


TERENCE SMITH: When Mahmoud Abbas quit Saturday as prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, he blamed Israeli leaders for not implementing their part of the road map and the Bush Administration for not pressing Israel to do so. But he also criticized Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, for his lack of support. In order to contain radical groups like Hamas, Abbas had sought more control over Palestinian security forces. Arafat never relinquished that control. After the resignation, Israeli and U.S. officials criticized Arafat.

DORE GOLD: The entire blame for the current crisis that has been created lies at the doorstep of Yasser Arafat, who refused to let Mahmoud Abbas rule as a prime minister, who refused to let him dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism, and as a result we have the situation as it is now.

COLIN POWELL: Hamas, a terrorist organization, would not stop its terrorist activities, and the Palestinian Legislative Council and Mr. Arafat and other authorities within the Palestinian community did not give Mr. Abbas the resources that he needed in order to go after Hamas.

TERENCE SMITH: The man Arafat tapped to succeed Abbas, Ahmed Qurei, helped craft the 1993 Oslo Accords, the first formal agreement between the Palestinians and Israel. The 65-year-old Qurei, also known as Abu Ala, has not yet accepted the job. A banker by trade, he’s a long time member of Fatah, Arafat’s wing of the Palestinian movement.

In an interview last year with the NewsHour’s Elizabeth Farnsworth, Qurei said Israel was impeding the peace process by continuing to build Jewish settlements on Palestinian lands.

AHMED QUREIA: The most danger terror acts against the Palestinian people is confiscating their land and building settlements. This is the real terror. If it will not be dealt in a very serious way and if it will not be freezed and later dismantled, I’m afraid the situation will continue and the danger will remain even if the struggle continues for tens of years.

TERENCE SMITH: This weekend, Israeli air strikes targeted suspected Hamas weapons sites and the group’s spiritual leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin. Yassin survived, but Hamas responded by threatening to “strike everywhere.” Today in the West Bank, Qurei said there are conditions for his taking the prime minister’s job.

AHMED QUREIA: I don’t want to fail, and therefore I want to see what kind of change on the ground the Israelis will give, what kind of support from the United States, in this regard, from the United States. I want to see that the Israelis will change the way of dealing with Arafat.

TERENCE SMITH: Qurei said he also wants to see the situation change on the ground for the Palestinian people.

TERENCE SMITH: For more on the resignation and what lies ahead, we get two perspectives. Martin Indyk was U.S. Ambassador to Israel during the Clinton administration. He’s now director of the Saban Center for Middle East policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington. And William Quandt served on the National Security Council staff during the Nixon and Carter Administrations and participated in the Egyptian-Israeli peace negotiations. He’s now a professor of government and foreign affairs at the University of Virginia. Welcome to you both. Bill Quandt, from what you know, what pushed Mahmoud Abbas to this point of resignation?

WILLIAM QUANDT: I think we should take seriously what he said the reasons were. He said that the situation was impossible to deal with: The Israelis were continuing their policy of targeted assassinations; they hadn’t gone ahead with the dismantling of settlements as called for in the road map. He also expressed his frustration with the American role, that it wasn’t forceful enough to keep the parties focused and move in the right direction, and of course he mentioned the lack of support from his own president, Yasser Arafat.

And I think all three of those are real issues that any Palestinian leader is probably going to have to deal with, whether it’s the new prime minister designate or some future political leader who steps into that role.

TERENCE SMITH: Martin Indyk, did the U.S. and Israeli acceptance of Abbas perversely hurt his standing in the Palestinian movement?

MARTIN INDYK: I think so, simply because he wasn’t able to show that that acceptance by the United States and Israel actually led to results on the ground for the Palestinian people that would have increased his popularity and his legitimacy, and so he was open to the charge, which Yasser Arafat made against him in all sorts of insidious ways that he was somehow our puppet, Israel’s puppet. And that did weaken him in the eyes of his people.

TERENCE SMITH: Bill Quandt, what is the significance of his departure to the famous road map to peace that the United States has put so much effort into?

WILLIAM QUANDT: Well, the road map has been in trouble almost from the inception. It was, I think, frankly always a long shot. It required a great deal of restraint on the part of the Israeli leadership, perhaps on the part of the Americans and the others who had helped to construct it, and an ability on the part of the Palestinians to negotiate a very delicate truce with their own hard-liners, the prelude to actually reigning them in in a more substantial way.

So it was never going to be easy, and I don’t think we can put the blame on Abu Mazen. He at least hit the right notes in the way he spoke about the needs for ending the violence, and I think that’s what endeared him to many international supporters of peace in the region. He at least talked as if he genuinely believed that peace was necessary and possible and that violence was the enemy.

The problem, of course, is that the conditions on the ground have been just terrible in the last several weeks and longer than that, and that for ordinary Israelis and for ordinary Palestinians the road map didn’t represent either an improvement in their security, their well- being, or their hope for the future.

So I think the road map, as originally conceived, has to be pretty much viewed now as a failure, and it’s not going to be easy to simply try to resurrect it because there’s a new face on the scene in the form of a new Palestinian prime minister designate.

TERENCE SMITH: Martin Indyk, your take on the health or lack thereof of the road map to peace?

MARTIN INDYK: I think Bill is right, that it is really at best on life support. But I think that the reason comes down to a fundamental flaw in the road map and a structural problem that any kind of initiative will have to confront, and that is the fundamental lack of capacity on the Palestinian side for responsible action, in particular to stop the violence and terrorism coming from the terrorist organizations.

Abu Mazen did not have that capability. He didn’t have the security services under his control. Even if he did, those security services would have questionable ability. And he didn’t have the popular support to confront Hamas in the circumstances. And that fundamental lack of a responsible and capable Palestinian partner is really at the heart of the failure of the road map. We weren’t able to do anything about that. We could have tried a lot harder, I believe. The CIA could have done a much better job much more quickly of restructuring the security forces. We could have worked with the Egyptians and the Europeans to force Arafat to hand over control of the other security services, but nevertheless that fundamental flaw is what I think doomed the road map from the beginning and will doom any future efforts unless it’s addressed.

TERENCE SMITH: Bill Quandt, what does this resignation tell you about the relative strength of Yasser Arafat as we speak? The U.S. and Israel have invested a certain amount of energy in trying to isolate him, declaring him irrelevant. Just how irrelevant is he?

WILLIAM QUANDT: Well, I think he’s demonstrated once again that he is very capable of manipulating the political game on the Palestinian side. He’s spent his entire life doing this and no one does it better. I don’t think he has the depth of support that he used to have, but he still is probably the single most popular political leader on the Palestinian side. He has a lot to answer for historically, but I think that the attempt by the Americans and the Israelis to simply say he doesn’t matter anymore was almost a challenge to him to prove otherwise, and he’s now done so.

I’d like to just add one point to what Martin said. I think he’s correct that there was a flaw in the road map. It assumed too much capability on the Palestinian side to crack down on their own hard-liners, but there was also another gap that I think is going to have to be filled if this is ever going to work in some future diplomatic initiative.

The road map didn’t seem to have a clear destination that the parties even vaguely could agree on. It talked about a Palestinian state by 2005, which, quite frankly, was an ambitious program, but it never tried to define what that state would be like, what its geographical shape would be, how Jerusalem would fit into this– issues that had been addressed at the end of 2000. The parties hadn’t agreed on them, but at least they’d started talking. And I honestly think now we should draw the conclusion that this step-by-step process to get the parties to trust one another, which is what the road map was trying to do so that they can engage in serious negotiations, is simply not going to work, that they get bogged down in each small step, they see the other’s noncompliance as a reason not to trust the other, and that we would be better off trying to address “where is this whole process supposed to head?” And “what role can the international community play to help in that transition?”

There have been some ideas floated, including by Martin Indyk, about an interim period with a stronger international role. He’s called it a trusteeship. Others have called for another mechanism with an international period in which Israelis and Palestinians can be separated without depending on each other to carry out each step; that is, some third force. And I think it’s time to start thinking seriously about those alternatives.

TERENCE SMITH: Martin Indyk, before we get to that, tell us a little about the new man designated by Yasser Arafat once again as the punitive prime minister of the Palestinian authority, Ahmed Qurei. Tell us a little about him and the significance of his selection.

MARTIN INDYK: He’s essentially the number three person in the PLO hierarchy after Arafat and Abu Mazen, and therefore he’s a natural selection. He’s the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council. He’s been elected to that position. He enjoys considerable legitimacy within the legislative council, but not much beyond its four walls in terms of popular support to be able to have a base to challenge Arafat’s authority. He really has been dependent on Arafat all of these years, and Arafat has very effectively played Abu Mazen off against Qurei and vice versa.

And he is, I think, a little different to Abu Mazen in that he’s more Wiley, a bit more manipulative, and therefore perhaps a little better of a negotiator with Yasser Arafat, who needs to be manipulated to get anything out of him. But ultimately he is not, I don’t believe, going to be any better than Abu Mazen in terms of confronting Arafat, taking authority away from him or for that matter, confronting the terrorist organizations. The bottom line is he is an Abu. He’s Abu Ala, Abu Mazen… Yasser Arafat… this whole generation that came from Tunis with Arafat has proved itself incapable of standing up to the tests of history and leading the Palestinian people to the promised land of this two-state solution, and I’m afraid that… you know, we can go down the road that I’ve suggested or that Bill suggests or someone, but until we get a leadership on the Palestinian side that is prepared to play the politics of responsibility rather than the politics of victim hood, which is what the Abus are terrific at, I’m just afraid that it’s going to be very difficult to make any serious progress.

TERENCE SMITH: All right, Bill Quandt, what do you think prospects are for the new man? And what would be required, say, from the U.S. and from Israel as well, to make it a success?

WILLIAM QUANDT: Well, I agree with Martin that not a great deal distinguishes Abu Ala from Abu Mazen. On substance, there’s probably not much different. They’re both of the same generation and the basically the same political background, so I don’t see what is going to make his job any easier than it was for his predecessor.

I think perhaps the only thing to say is that perhaps we should learn something from Abu Mazen’s resignation that whoever is in this role is going to ultimately be able to play a responsible part, stand up to Arafat, do the things that we hope for. He has to be able to point to something fairly quickly that demonstrates he can get results.

That means Sharon is going to have to be unusually forthcoming on something to demonstrate that the new Palestinian prime minister is a real partner. The United States similarly is going to have to decide whether they want to invest anything in boosting his reputation, not by saying nice words, but by trying to produce results that will change the life of Palestinians, which is getting worse almost day by day.

I do think that if the United States is serious… and it’s a little hard to judge that right now; I would guess that many people in Washington are pretty fed up with the way the Israeli- Palestinian road map has not worked and are ready to wash their hands of it; plus, they’ve got plenty of work to do in Iraq. But I think if we’re serious about the Israeli-Palestinian issue as a strategic issue for Americans to deal with seriously, we have to come up with something other than the road map now, and it’s going to be a more substantive vision with more clear-cut steps that the international community, which means the United States with a few of its allies, could play to help begin to take steps toward a two-state solution. I think leaving the full responsibility on a party that’s as weakened and factionalized as the Palestinian community in present circumstances is to ensure that nothing’s going to happen.

TERENCE SMITH: Okay, Bill Quandt, Martin Indyk, thank you both very much.