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April 18, 2003

U.S.-Israel Differences Deepen on Peace 'Map'

This piece in Forward is a clear indication of the differing views about the Roadmap and how various views are shifting, discussing, and perhaps compromising.
[...] But less than an hour before the Rice-Weisglass meeting, the White House publicly made clear that it rejects Israel's approach. Rice laid out the White House position in a speech before a large crowd at a conference sponsored by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel think tank, just before meeting Weisglass, participants said.

Weisglass reportedly told Rice that Israel will make significant concessions only after the Palestinians have proved, for an extended period of time, that they have suppressed terrorism, destroyed the terrorists' infrastructure and taken measures to stop incitement to violence against Israel. He reportedly also said that the Palestinians will have to declare that they have relinquished their demand for the refugees' "right of return."

Pro-Israel lobbyists who listened to Rice's off-the-record speech reacted with concern to what they described as her open, public rejection of Israel's "sequential" approach to implementing the road map, and to her making clear that President Bush favors a "parallel approach." The Bush view reportedly calls for Israelis and Palestinians to act simultaneously, rather than in reaction to steps taken by the other side. The lobbyists said that Rice's remarks seemed to confirm a stance previously expressed only in private conversations by senior administration officials, that Washington does not accept Israel's approach, which would have Israel take steps only after specific Palestinian steps are taken.

While the United States accepts Israel's view that it is key to have a serious effort on the terrorism front early on, it does not accept the concept of Israel's taking conciliatory measures only in reaction to Palestinian steps.

Several Israeli officials and American analysts with close ties to the administration insisted that the differences over sequentiality versus parallelism can still be finessed. According to one senior Israeli official, that was what Weisglass attempted to do in his three-hour Monday meeting with Rice. According to American and Israeli sources, Israel might reward Palestinian anti-terrorism measures with measures that are of relatively minor political weight — mainly humanitarian gestures — while deferring politically sensitive concessions, such as freezing settlement activity, to a later phase following tougher Palestinian anti-terrorist actions.

One senior Israeli official, Ephraim Halevy, Sharon's national security adviser, suggested to the Forward that Israel may narrowly apply its sequential approach solely to Palestinian progress on terrorism. "Clearly, as long as terrorism is not uprooted, you can't proceed," Halevy said. "That is sequentiality, isn't it?"

According to Israeli press reports, Halevy, a former Mossad chief, opposes the road map on principle, believing Israel should always insist on direct negotiations with its neighbors, rather than accepting internationally prescribed solutions.[more]