President Bush’s Road Map was publicly shredded by PLO Chairman and Palestinian Authority President - Mahmoud Abbas - in Ramallah this week. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was there when it happened.
Ms Rice was making all the right noises and uttering the usual buzzwords and trite phrases designed to impress everyone with the supposed progress of the negotiations. “Trilaterals”, “bilaterals” ,"quantitative metrics”, “ the first really serious discussions on all of the core issues that have taken place between the parties for almost seven years” - were just a few choice terms that she managed to drop when answering questions from the assembled press corps.
However her optimism dissipated as President Abbas dropped the following bombshell at the joint media conference held with the Secretary of State:
“On this occasion we reiterate the need to stress that Gaza and the West Bank are one unified entity. And, therefore, we call up on Hamas to withdraw back from its coup and to accept immediately — and we are ready for that, to accept the calling for immediate Presidential and legislative elections and, therefore, we repeat our — what we mentioned earlier, that we are ready to go for early Presidential and legislative elections.
President Abbas with these few carefully crafted words made it absolutely clear that:
1. Any new State must be established on the whole of the West Bank and Gaza
2. Any talk of dividing the West Bank between Israel and the Palestinian Authority or separating the West Bank from Gaza would not be acceptable
3. Hamas - a declared terrorist organization - would be permitted - after ending its coup - to take part in new elections which could lead to it ending up in control of the new State . This would allow it to then engage in - and continue to implement - its declared policy of trying to destroy Israel using an army and State apparatus set up, trained and financed with American and international aid.
Abbas in making his outrageous remarks was repudiating a cardinal tenet of President Bush’s Road Map which states:
“A two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will only be achieved through an end to violence and terrorism, when the Palestinian people have a leadership acting decisively against terror and willing and able to build a practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty,”
Israel - in accepting the Road Map - had its own ideas of what ending violence and terrorism meant and expressed it as follows in one of the 14 reservations it stipulated when accepting the Road Map:
“In the first phase of the plan and as a condition for progress to the second phase, the Palestinians will complete the dismantling of terrorist organizations (Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front, the Democratic Front, Al-Aqsa Brigades and other apparatuses) and their infrastructure; collection of all illegal weapons and their transfer to a third party for the sake of being removed from the area and destroyed; cessation of weapons smuggling and weapons production inside the Palestinian Authority; activation of the full prevention apparatus and cessation of incitement.”
Abbas’s failure to dismantle Hamas and the other terror organisations prior to his ouster from Gaza has been the real obstacle to any new State ever having the remotest chance of being created. Whilst these terrorist organisations remain unexpurgated from Palestinian society any negotiations continue to be futile and offer no chance of success.
The Hamas coup in Gaza last year transformed President Abbas into a political eunuch. Yet he still managed to retain the confidence of the international community to progress President Bush’s Road Map to fruition. US$7.4 billion pledged to him in Paris at an international donors’ conference last year indicated the extent to which the international community was prepared to back Abbas.
Many of those donors are now also calling for Israel to negotiate with Hamas - having taken note of the meetings held by former US President Jimmy Carter with Hamas and the ostensible legitimacy that afforded to the terror organization.
In making his most recent comments President Abbas may have just finally tipped the scales enough to lose the support of President Bush and many others who saw him as the light at the end of the tunnel.
President Bush’s Road Map required the elimination - not the legitimisation - of terrorism if there was to be any successful outcome. Embracing terrorists rather than fighting them is the very antithesis of the Road Map provisions.
President Abbas’s remarks have effectively consigned the Road Map to the waste paper basket and ensured the end of any hope of a new Arab State being created between Israel and Jordan.
Ms Rice stood by silently as President Abbas rammed his message home. Hopefully she delivered a stern rebuke to President Abbas in the confines of their private discussions. However the damage has been done and President Abbas will now find it exceedingly difficult to retract his comments. He certainly has indicated he is prepared to embrace - not dismantle - Hamas if the coup is ended in Gaza.
The Executive Council of the PLO was quick to endorse the Abbas remarks just one day later.
To the eternal shame of the press corps gathered there, not one question was put to either Ms Rice or President Abbas as to the impact his ground breaking statement would have on the current negotiations. The reporters present were too busy trotting out the tired old questions on roadblocks and settlements to even comprehend the enormity of President Abbas’s remarks.
President Abbas in those few words once again demonstrated the inability of the Arabs to understand that negotiations mean compromise - not intransigence. The body blow he delivered to the successful implementation of the Road Map is lethal.
Certainly his remarks were the last thing Ms Rice - and President Bush - would have wanted to hear.