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April 09, 2003

Going round in circles?

A balenced view of The Road Map via TheEconomist Clearly there are any number of big problems to be solved before there is going to be any headway toward constructing this Road.
One rupture is over who will get the crucial interior ministry, responsible for reforming the Palestinians’ various police forces. Some in Fatah (and others outside it, like Israel and America’s Central Intelligence Agency) want it to go to the former Gaza security chief, Mohammed Dahlan. Older hands want it to stay with the incumbent, Hani al-Hassan, a veteran Fatah leader known for his loyalty to Yasser Arafat and antagonism to Mr Abbas. Mr Arafat has been advising his new prime minister not to make “dramatic changes”, preferring any reshuffle to be restricted to four or five ministers. Mr Abbas is said to want a more root-and-branch overhaul.

As for a ceasefire, Hamas has laid down conditions, such as Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian cities. Following the killings in Gaza City this week, Hamas vowed “resistance”. It has also been leading Palestinian protests against the war in Iraq, drawing similarities between the American-led “occupation” and Israel’sThis is the crux of Mr Abbas’s dilemma, say his aides. They believe the only way the roadmap can be travelled is if, in parallel with Palestinian action to curb violence, Israel withdraws from the Palestinian areas, freezes the construction of Jewish settlements and ends its policy of assassinations. Mr Abbas’s strategy is “dependent on co-operation from Israel, intervention from America and goodwill from Hamas. And none so far has been forthcoming,” says the Palestinian labour minister, Ghassan Khatib.

The Israeli government is girding to fight over the details of the still-unpublished roadmap. At first, government sources let it be known that they would submit around 100 proposed amendments to a draft approved by the quartet in December. This went down badly in Washington, where the preference is plainly to publish the text and only then get into the haggling. The latest leaked reports in Jerusalem speak of 15 “reservations” that Ariel Sharon, the prime minister, intends to convey to the Bush administration.

Israel, for instance, wants the mutual “unequivocal statements” of recognition envisioned in the draft to include the Palestinians’ recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state”. Some Israeli ministers demand an explicit Palestinian renunciation of their refugees’ “right of return” to Israel, at this initial phase of the roadmap. Above all, the Sharon government insists on a principle of sequence or conditionality that the December draft carefully left vague. First, says the foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, the Palestinian side must curb the terrorism and stop all incitement. Only after a lengthy period of quiet would Israel’s duties kick in, including the duty to freeze the building of new settlements. .[more]