- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2003

   President Bush’s road map for Israeli-Palestinian peace has met with a somewhat rocky reception on Capitol Hill. The broad outlines of the deal are as follows: The Palestinian Authority’s new prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, will oversee a crackdown on terrorism against Israel. In exchange, the United States will assist the PA in building a new security apparatus. If all goes according to plan, the Palestinians would hold elections later this year, and the Quartet — comprised of the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia — would meet next year to endorse an agreement on the creation of an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders.
   Many congressional supporters of Israel are worried about the road map. The crux of their concerns is that other countries, among them Britain, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have demanded a series of steps that will result in the creation of a Palestinian state by a date certain without ensuring that Mr. Abbas actually puts an end to terrorism. More than 400 members of the Senate and House have signed a letter to Mr. Bush urging that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations be resumed based on the principles that the president outlined in his June 24, 2002, speech calling on Palestinians to replace Yasser Arafat with a new leadership. The lawmakers emphasized the need for the Palestinian security apparatus to be overhauled so that it fights terrorism, instead of continuing to engage in it.
   We have no doubt that Israel’s harshest critics in this country will seek to portray the congressional letter as an example of the way in which the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and other Jewish organizations are working in tandem with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to sabotage Palestinian statehood and ensure that Israeli settlements remain throughout the West Bank. This oversimplifies the truth.
    Leave aside, for a minute, the fact that these same American Jewish groups supported Labor Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak — relatively dovish Israeli leaders who made one concession after another to Mr. Arafat during the 1993-2000 Oslo peace process in an unsuccessful effort to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The central problem with this neo-conspiratorial view is that Mr. Sharon himself — perhaps Israel’s leading architect of settlements and formerly a staunch opponent of Palestinian statehood — appears to have changed his view. Last year, he handily beat back a Likud primary challenge from the right, launched by former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who made opposition to Mr. Sharon’s willingness to agree to Palestinian statehood a major issue in his campaign.
   In a recent interview with Haaretz, Mr. Sharon stated that “One has to view things realistically. Eventually, there will be a Palestinian state. I do not think that we have to rule over another people and run their lives. I do not think we have the strength for that. It is a very heavy burden on the public.”
   If Mr. Abbas proves successful in opposing terrorism and dismantling its infrastructure, as Mr. Bush urged in his speech (big ifs, we admit), look for Mr. Sharon to present the Knesset with a peace agreement with the Palestinians in the next few years. His model could prove to be something like the Hebron withdrawal agreement that Mr. Netanyahu reached with the Palestinians in January 1997. Like Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Sharon will lose some votes on the political right. But most of the right will support him, as will Labor and the rest of the left. (The Hebron accord passed by a lopsided 87-17 vote.)
   None of this will occur, however, unless the Palestinians stop terrorism.

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