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May 22, 2003

U.S. demanding Israel formally accept road map

Shocking. This a complete about face.

By Aluf Benn and Nathan Guttman, Haaretz Correspondents
The U.S. administration is demanding Israel formally accept the road map to a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so that it does not appear to be recalcitrant trying to delay advancing the political process.

As reported Wednesday night by Channel Two news, the U.S. administration has reversed its position in the last two days. Until now, the Americans have been saying there is no importance to a formal acceptance of the plan, and that the important thing is to start its implementation on the ground.

U.S. President George W. Bush told Sharon on Tuesday that it is important to proceed with the political process according to the road map. American officials told senior Israeli officials that they are under heavy pressure from Arab countries to make Israel accept the road map. They made clear that the issue of "acceptance" not become an obstacle to its implementation, giving the Palestinians an excuse not to act against the terror groups. The administration has also rejected Israel's distinction between Bush's June 24 speech and the road map meant to implement it.

The road map puts the refugee issue in the third phase of the process, during the final status negotiations. Israel is also against the road map's predication on the Saudi Arabian initiative, which calls for an Israeli withdrawal from all the territories captured in 1967. Sharon and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom have told the Americans that the road map, in its current form, could not pass the current government coalition.

The administration is also demanding that Sharon dismantle the illegal outposts in the West Bank, in a move that is clearly seen by the world, immediately after the next meeting between Sharon and Bush. But the administration has accepted an Israeli distinction being drawn between "illegal" outposts and "legal" ones. For Washington, the issue has become a matter of Sharon meeting his commitments.
Acceptance is a huge issue. To my mind, the US won't allow ammendments that are sure to sour the Arabs. Removal of the reference to the Saudi Plan will scuttle the whole idea of getting the Arab countries to make peace with Israel. By the way the Roadmap doesn't refer to Illegal settlements, so it appears the US admin is willing to accept a cessation of only "illegal" settlements. These are recent settlements that under Israeli law are illegal. They are small and not significant.

Why is the pressure always on Israel? Why aren't the Palestinians forced to accept our position. Once Israel accepts even if the process aborts, Israel in effect would have agreed to the Saudi Peace Plan. This is a horror.

Herb Keinon of JPost has a different take
With the road map stalled because of the recent terror wave, the US is trying to get Israel to begin implementing part of the diplomatic plan without completely endorsing it, according to diplomatic officials.

According to these officials, the US is aware that the road map as it stands now, without incorporating into it any of Israel's 15 objections, would have little chance of gaining Israeli cabinet approval.

As such, the US is calling on Israel to make some steps along the road map without fully endorsing it. The US, according to these sources, does not believe Israel's reservations to the plan are enough of a reason not to move forward on the plan, but also realizes that without Palestinian action against the terrorism, Israel can not be expected to make any dramatic gesture to the Palestinians.

Right now, one official said, "the Americans are thinking hard on how to get this whole thing unstuck.

Israeli officials said one possible way to bridge the gap between the Israel demand that its reservations be taken into account, and a US reluctance to open the whole plan for renegotiation, is to add side-letters or rephrase parts of the document. Both the Palestinians and the EU are adamantly opposed to changes in the document, and are demanding Israeli acceptance as is.

The US, according to diplomatic officials, is trying to extract a formula from Sharon beyond his oft-repeated expression that Israel accepts Bush's June 24th speech and vision of two states. In American eyes the problem with this statement is that it implies a vast difference between the road map and the Bush vision, something Bush Administration spokesman have repeatedly denied.

The New York Times puts it this way
A focus of the discussions, administration officials said, was a plea by the Bush administration for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel to drop his refusal to endorse the administration's peace plan, known as the "road map."

The administration was said to be looking for some artful language that would allow Mr. Sharon to endorse the plan, but somewhat ambiguously, making it possible for him to tell his fractious cabinet that he had not really endorsed it in its entirety.