Bush team navigated rough waters to gain Israeli endorsement of peace plan.
map," Powell said in Paris on May 23.
The Israeli Cabinet qualified its approval by
attaching 14 reservations to the plan. It also voted to
reject the Palestinian demand for a "right of return"
for refugees from Israel's 1948 War of Independence
and their descendants — several million people in
all — to their former homes inside Israel.
Israeli officials fear the plan calls for irrevocable
Israeli concessions before the Palestinians prove they
are serious about fighting terror, and that it is too
driven by timelines as opposed to performance.
Most of Israel's reservations relate to implementa-
tion, the Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported.
allowing Sharon to accept the plan piecemeal,
making small goodwill gestures to allow the
Palestinians to begin enforcing security without
binding Sharon to the goal of an eventual
Palestinian state and the dismantling of Israeli set-
I n the end, the message from the White House
tlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
to the Jewish world could have been this:
Despite Israel's steps on the ground, however,
When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian
Arab and European governments focused on
conflict, the vision that President Bush set
Sharon's reluctance to endorse the plan, not the
forth last June is like the Torah. The road map peace
Palestinian failure to crack down on terror
plan is like the Talmud, explaining that vision —
but open to multiple interpretations.
The Palestinians refused to begin fighting ter-
The Israeli Cabinet vote May 25, accepting the
rorism until Israel formally accepted the docu-
road map — which came after U.S. officials said
ment. Increasingly, the White
they would seriously consider Israel's
House saw that the road map was
reservations during the plan's imple-
becoming an impediment to
mentation — clears the way for
c- progress, rather than an inspira-
more forceful U.S. engagement in
tion, and sought a way to get all
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
the parties on to the same page.
If Bush puts his presidential pres-
The deal was worked out May
tige to work, the road map could
21 when Sharon's chief of staff,
mark the first real sign of progress
Dov Weisglass, met with Rice in
since the Palestinian intifada (upris-
It essentially was the
ing) began in September 2000, said
meeting Sharon and Bush were
Jon Alterman, director of Middle
due to have on May 20, before a
East programs at the Center for
series of terror attacks early in the
Strategic and International Studies.
week killed 12 Israelis and caused
"This is where it becomes an art
Sharon to cancel his trip.
and not a science," Alterman said.
White House officials under-
"You need enough 'oomph' to get it
Sharon's domestic political
moving, but not too much so that
problems and came up with a
each side gets immune to presiden-
political solution that satisfied his
needs, while allowing the United
Israeli officials had feared that the
States to move forward. The
plan diverged too much from the
Palestinians welcomed the Israeli
vision Bush presented in a speech
but warned that the reserva-
last June 24, in which he called for a
tions could empty the plan of its
change in Palestinian leadership and
an end to terrorism before progress
Now that all sides are working
could be made toward a Palestinian
President George W Bush has pledged to pursue Mideast peace via the road map plan
from the same script, the Bush
endorsed by Ariel Sharon and the Israeli Cabinet.
administration is expected to take
Reassurance from White House
a tougher line with the
officials that the June 24 speech
them to curb violence.
indeed sets the parameters for the road map allowed
Much of the focus will be on Mahmoud Abbas,
Palestinians, delay a settlement freeze until the
Sharon to endorse the plan May 23. He brought it
the new Palestinian Authority prime minister, as
Palestinians start fighting terror in earnest and
to his Cabinet for approval on Sunday, and it passed
he faces the first tests of whether he can steer
ensure that implementation will be monitored only
in a 12-7 vote, with four abstentions.
by the United States — not by the European Union, Palestinian affairs away from the corruption and
terrorism that were endemic under the rule of
United Nations and Russia, the other bodies that
Behind The Scenes
P.A. President Yasser Arafat.
helped the United States draft the plan.
However, with Arafat maintaining a significant
The vote came days after Secretary of State Colin
of power and prestige — and, according
Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza
to reports, actively working to undermine the
for the Palestinians to meet before achieving state-
Rice acknowledged that Israel's concerns about the
prime minister — it's not at all clear if Abbas can
hood. The Palestinians accepted the plan quickly,
plan were valid and that the United States would
"address them fully and seriously" during implemen- and Israel came under growing international pres-
Bush plans to meet soon with Sharon and
sure when it refused to sign on.
Abbas, possibly on June 5 in Jordan. American
Yet the statement was sufficiently vague that it
officials also are trying to arrange a June 4 sum-
didn't thwart the plan, which the Bush administra-
mit for Bush with leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi
tion believes is the right path toward peace. "We are
Arabia and other Arab states.
The United States at first seemed understanding,
not planning on making any changes to the road
MATTHEW E. BERGER
Jewish Telegraphic Agency