To draw a roadmap
Arab states need to be clearer about the road ahead and the 'map' they should be following. Dina Ezzat reports
Less than a month away from the 20 December Quartet meeting to announce the so-called roadmap for peace in the Middle East, Arab countries are still expressing uncertainty about the plan that will be officially tabled as a framework for a solution to the Arab--Israeli conflict.
Hisham Youssef, the official spokesman for the Arab League secretary-general, said, "The Arab position is still being formulated. Consultations are continuing; there are ideas that are being forwarded to make this roadmap more balanced and more compatible with Arab rights and more consistent with the Arab Peace Initiative as adopted at the Beirut summit."
Youssef's statement is a nice way of saying that the Arabs are having a difficult time agreeing not only on suggestions for amendments to the proposed map, but even on whether they should support the plan at all.
Arab diplomatic activities this week brought to the fore these differences. Farouk Al-Sharaa, Syrian foreign minister, strongly criticised the plan and argued that it is "not a map and it leads to no road; it is just an American political exercise to fill the political vacuum in the Middle East" while Israel's aggression against the Palestinian people continues. Meanwhile, Palestinian Minister of International Planning Nabil Shaath is reported to be heading to the US for talks with Israeli and American officials on the proposal.
Following a recent limited Arab foreign ministers meeting in Damascus that also saw the participation of Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, an Arab diplomatic source who was at the meeting said, "There is certainly a Syrian--Palestinian disagreement on the roadmap. While the Palestinians say it is the only offer on the table now, and it is better to try and improve it than ignore it, the Syrians argue that the roadmap is no more than an attempt by the Americans to end the Intifada and present the US administration in the Arab world as a peace mediator." And, according to the same source, the meeting revealed "not just disagreement but also a lack of clarity" in the roadmap.
During the Damascus meeting, sources say, the disagreements were more complicated than one side saying the plan was no good (Syria and Lebanon), and the other saying it was acceptable (the Palestinians, Jordanians and Egyptians). "It was a situation where there were disagreements among those who said it was bad, while those who said it was a workable proposal could not agree on the priorities for amending it so as to be a more Arab-friendly offer," commented one source.
The roadmap comprises three phases, the first of which requires Palestinians to take a long list of measures to "stop the violence". If Israel is satisfied by the Palestinians' performance in security matters, it should then take steps to withdraw its troops from Palestinian territories and ease the embargo on the territories. The plan requires both Egypt and Jordan to return diplomatic representation in Tel Aviv to the ambassador level. This first phase should take about a year.
For the second phase, also expected to last a year, the Palestinians, Israelis, the Quartet and other concerned parties are to work to create a Palestinian state with provisional borders based on a new Palestinian constitution.
Then, in 2005 or 2006, Palestinians and Israelis are to embark on final status talks for a permanent resolution.
According to informed Arab sources, the Palestinians' main concern with the roadmap is the performance-based criteria that requires much from them on the security front, but does not include a clear vision or commitment on the Israeli withdrawal. The Jordanians are more concerned about the precise manner in which final status issues, particularly Jerusalem, will be discussed. The Saudis, for their part, view the proposed roadmap as being full of 'ifs' and 'buts' in a way that could hinder achievement of results. As for the Egyptians, they say they will probably back whatever position the Palestinians take.
Meanwhile, the Arab League secretary- general is voicing other concerns. The first has to do with the guarantees. "This is the most important thing. We have suffered for years from the Israeli tendency not to implement its agreements and to get away with non-implementation under phoney security pretexts. There have to be guarantees," Moussa said.
Guarantees are, not surprisingly, the trickiest part of the roadmap. "The Americans do not want to talk about guarantees. They are not even prepared to talk about direct and continuous involvement by the Quartet as a third party in charge of follow-up and monitoring," commented one diplomatic source. He added, "So it seems unrealistic to speak of what some Arab quarters have been proposing with respect to obtaining a UN Security Council resolution to adopt the roadmap and enforce its implementation under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which permits retaliatory measures in the event of non-implementation, as is the case with Iraq".
European sources have indicated that the US opposes the creation of a monitoring mechanism that is being pursued by the European Union. In fact, Washington has turned down a Russian proposal to present the roadmap to the UN Security Council for revisions. And the US seems willing to accommodate an Israeli request to put any serious talk about the roadmap on hold for a few weeks while Israel prepares for elections.
And as one senior Arab diplomatic source summed up the situation, "the Arabs are not really sure what to do with this roadmap, but at least they are trying to make sure that whatever is offered officially -- which should be subject to amendment through consultation -- is not totally out of line with the Arab point of view."
The problem with the roadmap, some Arab diplomats argue, is only part and parcel of the broader sense of uncertainty concerning major issues in the Arab world. One diplomat said, "Nobody knows what will happen with Iraq, the Arab-Israeli conflict or the efforts proposed by the secretariat of the Arab League to enhance Arab relations."
Arab League Secretary-General Moussa was blunt about the prospects for ameliorating the problems faced by the Arab world, saying, the current situation "is cause for much pessimism about the future".