No settlement can follow from Israel's imposing its narrative

By Mustafa Abu Sway
Commentary by
Monday, August 31, 2009

The Palestinian-Israeli “road map” was supposed to be a performance-based plan leading to a two-state solution by 2005. Israel “accepted” the road map, yet it presented 14 reservations, a classic move aimed at placating the international community while, at the same time, presenting its own understanding of what peace or a peace process should look like. This imposition of a Zionist narrative onto attempts at resolving the conflict remains a stumbling block by aiming to insulate Israel against the implementation of international law and international agreements.

Since the road map was signed, Israel has created new facts on the ground that violate international law, such as the separation barrier and the ever-growing colonies in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. These continue to undermine efforts to implement the road map, despite the fact that the latter offers parameters mostly in favor of Israel. The most influential member of the Quartet, the United States, has not even been able to convince Israel to comply with President Barack Obama’s demand for a one-year total freeze on settlement construction. US special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell’s trips to Jerusalem have yielded nothing even if they are a defining test for American intentions. No government or international body is yet willing to put Israel itself to the test.

Shortly before the Israeli elections, Benjamin Netanyahu told the Quartet’s Middle East Envoy Tony Blair that he would continue the policy of past Israeli governments to support “natural growth” in settlements, though he would not build new settlements. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Israeli Peace Now movement has just published a report showing that Netanyahu’s government has indeed built new settlements while also giving a green light for 104 new units in the heart of the Arab neighborhood of Ras al-Amoud in East Jerusalem. This is to be built on Jordanian property that ought to be protected under the Washington Declaration of 1994 (the Wadi Araba agreement).

East Jerusalem in particular is suffering from frantic Israeli measures that have led to the uprooting of many Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, in spite of American and international objections. This behavior on the part of Israel shows how distant it is from the letter and spirit of the road map.

The language of the road map does not reflect a bona fide recognition of the humanity of the Palestinians and their plight. Rather than making the implementation of UN resolutions the cornerstone of the resolution to the conflict, it presented new parameters that heavily reflect Israeli interests. The essential problem with the road map is that it treats Israeli security as a prerequisite for peace rather than an outcome of peace. This approach ignores the context of the Israeli occupation and the harsh reality it creates. The Palestinian issue is grievances-based. It is by addressing these grievances that we will hopefully reach peaceful coexistence. Final status issues should have been addressed long before Phase III.

Israel’s security was the predominant theme of Phase I of the road map. It is the Palestinian Authority (PA) that is required to provide Israel with security. Reform of the Palestinian security forces meant primarily that Palestinian resistance factions should be neutralized. The PA security forces have now been developed to the degree that they can maintain law and order as a police force, if Israeli forces keep a distance. But the PA security forces cannot be totally credited for the relative quiet in PA-controlled areas; there has been no known decision on the part of the Palestinian resistance factions to challenge the PA in the West Bank.

Results are not guaranteed either when PA security forces try to implement the road map. This is the background to the split between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The gap between the PA (Fatah) and the sacked government of Ismail Haniyya (Hamas) is very wide, with both sides resorting to undemocratic practices. The seeds for a future police state have been laid. To reverse the damage is a daunting task and cannot be achieved without a Palestinian unity government.

All final-status issues, if left to the text of the road map and its Israeli interpretation, will become permanent obstacles. One example is the right of return of Palestinian refugees to the homes and lands from which they were forced out in 1948. The road map’s call for a “realistic” solution to the plight of Palestinian refugees opens the door for the commoditization of the right of return, whereby financial compensation is offered in exchange for this basic human right, entrenched in United Nations resolutions. This only adds insult to injury.

In view of all this, it is shortsighted of Israeli leaders to create conditions on the ground that make implementation of the road map a quasi-impossible task. This way, the road map will share the fate of the Arab Peace Initiative.

Mustafa Abu Sway teaches at Al-Quds University. This commentary first appeared at, an online newsletter that publishes views of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

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