JERUSALEM - After months of delays and debate, diplomats formally delivered yesterday an outline of the U.S.-backed Middle East peace plan called the "road map" to the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers.
When and in what form the two sides will respond remained unknown, but
President Bush said yesterday that he would press hard for the plan quickly
being put into effect so the region can "immediately end the violence and
return to a path of peace."
"The road map represents a starting point toward achieving the vision of
two states - a secure state of Israel and a viable, peaceful, democratic
Palestine," he said.
The road map, published on the Internet months ago and debated here long
before yesterday's unveiling, was presented a day after a new Palestinian
prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, was installed after calling the armed uprising
But it also came just hours after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed three
bystanders in an attack at a seafront bar next to the U.S. Embassy in Tel
Aviv, thereby underscoring the difficulties in ending violence that has left
more than 3,000 people dead in the past 31 months.
Still, foreign leaders hailed the delivery of the plan as a signal that
U.S. diplomats are prepared to devote significant attention to the region.
"I do not underestimate the commitment it will require, but the prize is
enormous," said British Prime Minister Tony Blair, adding that the road map
"places clear but fair obligations on both sides to achieve a final and
In Washington, Dan Bartlett, Bush's top communications adviser, said that
Israelis and Palestinians would have to expect setbacks and "keep an eye at
the end of the road" to achieve a lasting peace.
"We have seen when there have been steps forward, those who don't want
peace and security lash out and attempt to derail the peace process," he said.
"This is going to require an enormous amount of leadership on both sides of
the issue, to not let that deter us from achieving our objectives."
Diplomats from the United Nations, the European Union, Russia and the
United States - a consortium known as the Quartet - drew up the road map last
year. It calls for Israelis and Palestinians to make simultaneous concessions
that will lead, step by step, to an independent Palestinian state by the
summer of 2005.
For example, at the onset, Palestinians would be required to dismantle and
disarm militant groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and collect illegal
weapons. Israel would be required to freeze the growth of Jewish settlements
in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and dismantle illegal settlement outposts
built since 2001.
Confronting popular militant groups could spark a civil war among
Palestinians, and it remains to be seen whether Abbas and his new head of
security, Mohammed Dahlan, will take up the challenge. Also, Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon's right-wing government is unlikely to accept evacuating
settlements, which even Sharon has acknowledged would have to be done to
create a viable Palestinian state.
While both sides say they back the plan, there is considerable debate over
who should make the first move and how each step should be implemented.
Israeli officials object to timelines, while the Palestinians want concessions
on parallel tracks.
The envoys delivered the road map with little fanfare yesterday. About 3:30
p.m., the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Daniel C. Kurtzer, arrived by motorcade
at Sharon's Jerusalem residence and was quickly ushered inside and out of
About 90 minutes later, U.N. Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen handed the
plan in a red folder to Abbas - but not to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat,
who is viewed by some as an obstacle - in his Ramallah office. Abbas was
flanked by several of his newly approved Cabinet ministers, and the ceremony
was broadcast live on CNN.
Sharon and his aides have set a number of preconditions for the
Palestinians, such as the end of all violence and the jailing of militant
leaders before Israel would take its first steps.
Yesterday, Sharon's office issued a statement saying that Israel welcomed
the road map "in order to receive comments on the text of the map" - which
Palestinians interpreted as a bid by Israel to amend sections it does not
like. Earlier this month, Sharon sent one of his top aides to Washington to
raise various objections to the plan.
On Tuesday, Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat told reporters that he
had been assured by Bush administration officials in December that the road
map was "as is and final" and that no changes would be tolerated. Abbas, in
his inaugural speech, warned that further negotiations on the provisions of
the road map would mean its demise.
"The road map must be implemented, not negotiated," he said, adding that
the issue of Jewish settlements continues "to be a major threat to the
creation of a Palestinian state with genuine sovereignty. Thus, settlements
are the primary obstacle to any peace process."
Palestinian leaders argue that by appointing Abbas prime minister and
curbing Arafat's powers, they have already completed the first stage of the
road map calling for internal Palestinian reform and that it is now Israel's
turn to make concessions.
The road map does not offer solutions to other contentious issues, such as
the future of Jerusalem and whether the city would be divided with both sides
having it as their capital, and the demands by Palestinians that refugees from
the Arab-Israeli wars be allowed to return to Israel.
Both sides agree that the success or failure of the plan will come down to
how firmly U.S. diplomats referee disputes and push the two sides forward.
Bush said he will send Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to the region May 8
to meet with Abbas and Sharon. He also said he would invite Abbas, but not
Arafat, to a meeting at the White House.
Powell has made it clear that the initial burden is on the Palestinians,
who must show a willingness and ability to stop violence against Israelis.
Yesterday's bombing in Tel Aviv gave Abbas' new government a serious test, and
Israel held off retaliating as part of a grace period for the new prime
Palestinian leaders condemned the attack and said that Abbas instructed
Dahlan to hold talks with militant leaders in hopes of winning a temporary
cease-fire, something Palestinian officials meeting in Egypt failed to
accomplish during months of talks.
Hamas and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militia loosely affiliated with
Arafat's Fatah faction, claimed joint responsibility for the bombing. In a
statement to the Associated Press, they said it was carried out in part as a
message to Abbas that "nobody can disarm the resistance movements without a
Israeli police said yesterday that two Palestinians, both of whom held
British passports, were involved in what was to have been a dual attack.
The suicide bomber was identified as Asif Mohammed Hanif, who authorities
said entered Israel from the Gaza Strip.
Authorities were searching for the second man, identified as Omar Khan
Sharif, who escaped after his bomb malfunctioned.