Mideast: Reviving the Roadmap

Set your watches. The most significant thing to come out of the Middle East conference in Annapolis is an agreement by Israelis and Palestinians to reach a peace treaty by the end of next year—in just over 13 months. Though the contours of an agreement have been laid out in a number of previous official and unofficial initiatives (for an example of each, see the Clinton parameters and the Geneva initiative), the two sides have never been good at meeting deadlines. Their Oslo accord envisioned a final peace agreement in three to five years. That was in 1993. The Roadmap, an American-led initiative to get the two sides talking again, called for the formation of a Palestinian state by 2005. Palestinian suicide bombings and harsh Israeli crackdowns turned the Roadmap, in the words of one U.S. diplomat based in Jerusalem at the time, into road kill. Now, the Roadmap has been resuscitated. The four-page document calls on each side to improve conditions on the ground and negotiate a final agreement. The Palestinians must disarm militias and get their security agencies in order. Israel must freeze the expansion of Jewish settlements and ease day-to-day life for Palestinians. (The document does not suggest compromises on borders, refugees, the division of Jerusalem or any of the other cornerstone issues.) Norwegian diplomat Terje-Roed Larsen was among the authors of the Roadmap. He also helped negotiate the Oslo accord. Now the president of the International Peace Academy in New York, Larsen spoke to NEWSWEEK's Dan Ephron. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: How long does it take to draft a document like the Roadmap?
Terje-Roed Larsen: It's a very time-consuming process. We spent nearly half a year drafting it and negotiating absolutely every sentence.

Give me an example of a section that was really labored over.
We had a philosophical debate that went on throughout the drafting sessions, which we termed "sequentialism versus parallelism." I insisted that the political issues, the security issues and the economic issues have to be addressed in parallel and that doing it sequentially—saying first the security issues have to be resolved—that wouldn't work without tackling the final status issues like borders, Jerusalem and refugees at the same time. The way it came out, the Roadmap allowed the Israeli government of Prime Minister [Ariel] Sharon to interpret it very strictly as security first, followed by politics and economics. And since it became impossible to improve the security situation, the whole enterprise got stuck.

So essentially you're saying it was a mistake on the part of the drafters to leave the issue of parallel measures vague, because it let Israel hinge the whole thing on security improvement?
Yes. And there must be a realization in the government of Israel now that it was a mistake to produce a sequentialist strategy, which only led to more bloodshed on both sides. And this is the beauty of the exercise at Annapolis, which is that you now have both sides working on all the issues at the same time. But it won't necessarily work. It will require masterful diplomacy on all sides.

One of the things that strikes me in reading the Roadmap now is how optimistic the timetable was. What was the basis for that optimism?
I think when you produce a document like that you have to produce timelines or else you won't get anywhere. Timelines put pressure on the parties.

Put the Roadmap in a historical context. How does it compare, for instance, with the first Israel-Palestinian agreement, known as the Oslo accord?
Oslo did not define the end goal, because the Palestinians and the Israelis in the Oslo process were not capable of agreeing on the establishment of a Palestinian state. Many of the Israeli figures at the time opposed a Palestinian state. What the Roadmap did was kind of close that loop by stating that the goal is a Palestinian state … And this was accepted by both Sharon and [Yasir] Arafat. So in a way Sharon radicalized Oslo. Many people seem to believe that Oslo is the radical document and the Roadmap is a moderate document. It's actually the other way around.

But in the end, neither Oslo nor the Roadmap nor a host of other papers and documents actually succeeded in bringing about peace between the two sides. What does that say about the whole exercise, including Annapolis?
All these exercises, though they have not materialized in reaching this end goal, have produced an ideological revolution both among the leadership of the Palestinians and the Israelis and also among the people, because now there has emerged a majority on both sides that believes the two-state solution is the best solution to this decades-long conflict. So Oslo and the Roadmap have produced ideological revolutions, which have reshaped the minds of the parties—both the leadership and the people.

At Annapolis, President Bush talked about getting the two sides to reach an agreement by the end of next year. Is that realistic?
It is possible, but not necessarily likely. In a way, you have three parties in the region. You have the peacemakers, who really want to resolve the issues and create a Palestinian state alongside Israel. There are many Arab states in the region who will support and work for this. Then you have the peace breakers, who will say, "It's not in our interests to have this state, because our goal is push Israel into the sea." And they will use every means available to undermine this process. And then you have what I call the "conflict entrepreneurs," who thrive on keeping the conflict alive. What they believe is that a resolution of the Palestinian conflict will take away a weapon of ideology from their arsenal.

These are countries like Syria?
I don't want to comment on which countries, but you find all three schools of thought represented throughout the region, both among nonstate actors and state actors.

What about the issue of Jewish settlements? The Roadmap called for a total freeze, but the settler population in the West Bank has grown by 20 percent since then.
I think unless there is a settlement freeze on the Israeli side and a clampdown on security on the Palestinian, there will be very little credibility to the process.