Road Map Again
Salve for the Europeans and the Arabs: Bush talks about
the Middle East "road map" while in Belfast.
JAMES D. BESSER
sraeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon began a last-
ditch effort this week to convince the Bush
administration not to plunge into a new round
of Mideast peacemaking using the proposed
"road map" for creation of a full Palestinian state by
But as U.S. forces finish the job of ousting Iraqi
leader Saddam Hussein, pressure is mounting from
U.S. allies around the world for President George W
Bush to officially put the plan on the table in the next
On Tuesday, after a summit in Belfast with British
Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush repeated his commit-
ment to the Mideast plan. "Prime Minister Blair and I
are determined to move toward our vision of broader
peace in that region," he told reporters.
"We're committed to implementing the road map
toward peace, to bring closer the day when two states
— Israel and Palestine — live side by side in peace and
Bush cited the example of Northern Ireland as proof
that "old patterns of bitterness and violence, the habits
of hatred and retribution, can be broken when one
generation makes the choice to break those habits."
This week, Avi Weisglass, Sharon's envoy on the
issue, was due in Washington to present 15 pro-
posed changes to a plan the administration said is
not open to renegotiation. Over the weekend,
Weisglass told Israeli media that if the plan. does not
address Israel's security concerns, Israel will spurn
the plan entirely.
Administration officials have argued that the docu-
ment is intended only as an opening for negotiations,
but Jewish leaders worry that international pressure
may make it into something more.
"The road map is broad enough that it's open to
interpretation," said an official with a major Jewish
group. "Washington's interpretation is somewhat
benign, and the focus here is on the road map as a
starting point for negotiations.
"But to the Europeans, it looks suspiciously like a
timetable — and a pretty radical one at that."
But pressure from the Europeans is mounting. David
Harris, executive director of the American Jewish
Committee, said pressure was evident during a recent
swing through several European capitals. "The
Europeans have determined that they need the
roadmap to assuage both domestic and Arab opinion;
it's as simple as that," he said. "Their positions are
rigid, and they have really turned up the heat on
European leaders have "very high expectations" for
the road map, he said; in contrast, officials in
Washington think the plan is unlikely to provide a
basis for rapid negotiations.
"It will put the president, in particular, in a very dif-
ficult position," Harris said. "He has a friendship and a
set of understandings with Israel, but also friendship
and a set of IOUs to individual European leaders,
beginning with the leaders of Britain and Spain. It's a
prescription for real tension."
Jewish groups are trying to walk a middle ground —
not attacking the road map directly, but pressing for
the administration's more favorable interpretation.
Jewish groups are also trying to keep their heads
down — way down — as the administration starts
debating the next phase in its global
war on terror, and the possibility
Syria might be in line for regime
change, American style.
"I don't think there's any doubt
where the Jewish community stands
on the damage Syria has done to the
region and to peace efforts," said an
official with a major Jewish group.
"But we are all very sensitive to the
idea that, once again, Jews will be
accused of pushing the nation to war,
if indeed the administration chooses a military
option in dealing with Syria."
In fact, most observers suggest that military action
is unlikely, despite harsh words from Washington
after reports of Syrian help for the Iraqi war effort.
Henry Siegman, director of the Mideast program at
the Council on Foreign Relations, said recent "mixed
signals" from the administration — including tough
words from Defense Secretary Don ald Rumsfeld, but
also statements by some administration hawks that
military action is not likely in the case of Syria —
reflect "a very intense debate taking place within the
Harsh public comments may be meant to convince
Syria and other terror-supporting nations in the
region to change their ways before Washington gets
done with Iraq and decides to move on to the next
phase in the anti-terror war, he said.
. But Siegman warned that the results of U.S. sword
rattling are hard to predict. "There may be some in
the region who will read the administration's message
and change their policies to prevent any U.S. action,"
he said. "But for others, it will just serve as a provo-
cation that could result in more terrorism."
Most observers agree: any decision on Syria will
depend to a great degree on the outcome of the Iraq
war and the effort to pacify and rebuild the country.
And political. factors will play a role.
Siegman pointed out that the Bush administration
will be cautious about new military commitments as
the presidential election starts in earnest.
A Los Angeles Times poll this week highlighted
those risks. Some 42 percent of those polled said the
United States should take military action against
Damascus if Syria is, in fact, providing Iraq with
weapons and equipment, but 46 percent said no.
More Americans — about half — said they would
favor military action against Iran if that country con-
tinues developing nuclear weapons, with 36 percent
Christian activists say they just want to help, and sever-
al Washington lawmakers say the measure is a mark of
respect to Israel.
But most pro-Israel groups are saying thanks but no
thanks as Congress considers new, non-binding legisla-
tion intended to protect holy sites in Israel and the sur-
The resolution, introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham
and Rep. Joe Wilson, both South Carolina
Republicans, calls for protection of all holy sites in
Israel and nearby territories — and adds that "the holy
sites currently under the sovereignty of the State of
Israel should remain under Israeli protection."
The proposal cites acts of Palestinian vandalism in
Nablus and Tiberias. "We cannot sit by quietly when
violence is directed against holy sites, as many
Americans visit these sites every year along with people
from all over the world," Wilson said in a statement.
The measure is a pet project of the Christian
Coalition, the conservative Evangelical group that has
made support for Israel and its Likud government a
new top priority. "When I was visiting Israel last
November with a number of other Christian Coalition
leaders, we were dismayed that we were not able to visit
the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the Church of the
Nativity in Bethlehem," said Christian Coalition presi-
dent Roberta Combs.
But the only Jewish gioup lined up behind the pend-
ing legislation is the Zionist Organization of America
(ZOA). Other pro-Israel groups are keeping their dis-
tance. "Protecting holy sites is important, but this legis-
lation is so broadly worded that it could be interpreted
as requiring that Israel retain permanent control of all
religious sites in Gaza and the West Bank," said an offi-
cial with a major Jewish group, who added that the
Israeli government has not signaled any interest in the
But ZOA President Morton Klein said the "track
record" of Palestinians on Jewish holy sites means that
Israel must retain control. "I think that no matter what
the disposition of Judea and Samaria, it would be a
mistake to consider trusting the Arabs to respect rights
of Jews and Arabs to visit their holy sites, and to ensure
the survival of those holy sites," he said.
By now, most of the world knows about the pleas of
Palestinian refugees and their descendants, and their
demand for to return to their homes in Israel. But the
more than 900,000 Jews forced from Arab lands since