President Bush’s Roadmap has been unceremoniously dumped at the Senate Foreign Relations confirmation hearing nominating Senator Hillary Clinton to be America’s next Secretary for State.
Amazingly not one mention was specifically made by Ms Clinton of the Roadmap or its VIP quartet of sponsors - America, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations - in the 63 pages of the transcript of the proceedings published 13 January 2009.
Indeed not one of the Senators present even asked a question relating to the future of the Roadmap.
The closest Ms Clinton got to almost mentioning the Roadmap was this curious statement made by her in response to a question by Senator Kerry:
“Well, you know, we are at a point where the current administration is working very hard behind the scenes and in front of the scenes and we don’t want to say or do anything that might interrupt or undermine what they are doing.”
With just 6 days to run before the current administration was ended, it was hardly a ringing endorsement of the Roadmap or really offered any expectation that the Roadmap would be at the forefront of the new administration’s efforts to solve the 130 years old conflict between Jews and Arabs to the territory once called Palestine.
Rather Ms Clinton gave this insight into what to expect under President Obama:
“As intractable as the Middle East problems may seem—and many presidents, including my husband, have spent years trying to work out a resolution—we cannot give up on peace. The president-elect and I understand and are deeply sympathetic to Israel’s desire to defend itself under the current conditions and to be free of shelling by Hamas rockets.
However, we have also been reminded of the tragic humanitarian cost of conflict in the Middle East and pained by the suffering of Palestinian and Israeli civilians. This must only increase our determination to seek a just and lasting peace agreement that brings real security to Israel; normal and positive relations with its neighbors; independence, economic progress, and security to the Palestinians in their own states.
We will exert every effort to support the work of Israelis and Palestinians who seek that result. It is critical not only to the parties involved, but to undermining the forces of alienation and violent extremism around the world.”
Ms Clinton pointedly did not say these objectives would be created through the continued pursuit of the Roadmap.
The Roadmap had been virtually declared a historical document in the long list of failed attempts to find a solution to the conflict when the Arabs rejected the following two conditions that President Bush had considered they would have to accept if there was to be a successful conclusion to any arrangement negotiated under the Roadmap:
1. That the entire area of the West Bank would not form part of a new Arab State to be created in the West Bank and Gaza
2. That the Arabs (and their descendants) made homeless in the 1948 War between Israel and the six Arab armies that invaded Western Palestine would not be allowed to return to the homes they had left - the so called “right of return”.
Whilst the first condition could be ultimately accepted by the Arabs, the right of return has been firmly ingrained in the Arab psyche in both the PLO Charter and the Hamas Covenant. Any Arab leadership recanting on this demand would be swept aside by the radical forces that urge its retention.
Ms Clinton however seems to feel this demand can be abandoned by adopting a more comprehensive strategy and by the payment of compensation as she told the Foreign Relations Committee:
“But we have refugee populations, some of decades longstanding and some of a few days standing, in so many places. I will do my very best to elevate this issue, to give you the kind of expertise within the State Department that will give you comfort that we’re going to make this a high priority, and to come up with solutions to some of our longstanding refugee challenges.
This is a very complex issue, because everywhere we look in the world, conflict, famine, disease, the economy, we have refugees. And so our hope is that we can get a more comprehensive strategy to deal with refugees, come to the Congress to get the funding for refugees, a problem which is compounded by the point that Senator Lugar made at the beginning of the hearing about the food crisis.
So I would welcome working with you and those who are concerned, as you are, to come up with an effective strategy for the United States to deploy with respect to refugees.”
Hot air and waffle have characterised the well intended - but fatally flawed - efforts of the Bush administration to bring peace between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East.
It seems at this early stage that the Obama administration is in a policy void following the demise of the Roadmap. Ms Clinton has offered no positive proposals for ending the conflict at the Senate confirmation hearing. That indeed may be a positive for the new administration.
Ms Clinton may have learnt from her husband’s failure to bring peace to the Middle East and understand that managing - not necessarily resolving - the conflict remains the real key to any future American involvement at this particular time and for the foreseeable future.
Policies should be promoted that enable the current tensions in Gaza to be ameliorated and that separate the warring combatants in the West Bank so as to permit more conducive conditions to be created to enable a final settlement to be negotiated after the dust of conflict of the last 60 years - and in particular of the last three weeks - has first been given time to settle.
This will take time and patience. There is no quick fix to ending the suffering sustained by both Jews and Arabs and a lengthy passage of time and absence of non-violence and confrontation is needed to create the opportunities - and environment - to then end the conflict.
As he readies himself to take the oath of office President-elect Obama should carry with him the sage advice proffered in the ancient Jewish text - the Ethics Of The Fathers:
“The work is great - the day is short. It is not our duty to complete the work - but neither are we free to desist from it.”