Mideast Peace: A Road Map

A U.S.-led effort to stem the violence that dominates Israeli-Palestinian relations.

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The Road Map is Announced

From that point on, the peace process attained new momentum: The U.S. promised its European allies greater progress in the peace process following the Iraq war, and there was widespread belief that the Abu Mazen government would make a difference. In April 2003 the Quartet announced a "Road Map" for peace, consisting of three phases.

In the first phase, the Palestinian were to undertake an "unconditional" cessation of violence, along with political reform in preparation for statehood. Israel was to withdraw from areas occupied in the years 2000-2003 and freeze all settlement activity.

Phase two, originally scheduled for the second half of 2003, was to be focused on rapid institution building toward an independent Palestinian state with "provisional borders." In phase three, which was to take place up to 2005, permanent settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute was envisioned.

Implementation

Phase One of the Road Map appeared on track during most of the summer of 2003. In late June, Abu Mazen announced that he had concluded an agreement with the major Palestinian militant groups, including Islamic Jihad and Hamas, in which they committed to a three-month hiatus in attacks against Israeli targets. Israel for its part agreed to its Phase One commitments in the road map--a gradual withdrawal from areas occupied after September 2000, removal of settlement outposts, and a freeze in new settlement activity. A summit meeting in Aqaba, Jordan, involving Bush, Abu Mazen and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, formally launched the Road Map to peace.

The populations of both sides initially heaved sighs of relief. Gazans had free and unimpeded access on the main roadways of the Gaza Strip for the first time in nearly three years.  A number of Palestinians who had been held in Israeli prisons came home. Israeli military authorities reported a steep drop in hostile activities directed against Israelis, and the night life in Israeli cities registered an increase, as people felt their personal security was at its highest in years. Sharon and Abu Mazen held several successful personal meetings aimed at implementing further confidence-building steps.

Phase One Falters

Despite the optimism, Israeli leaders registered disappointment at the fact that Abu Mazen's government consistently refused to confront Hamas and Islamic Jihad directly.  The hudna (cease fire) was technically not an agreement between Israel and any Palestinian groups; rather, it was an agreement between the Palestinian Authority and the Islamic organizations, and it granted the militants immunity from being disarmed.

Israel became convinced that the militant groups were using the cease-fire as a chance to regroup and re-arm. Israel on several occasions sent forces to West Bank towns to arrest suspected terrorists, raising tensions and causing the Palestinians to question Israel's commitment to the Road Map.

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Ziv Hellman is a Jerusalem-based writer and mathematician. A former editor at the Jerusalem Post, Ziv was a founding member of Peace Watch--the watchdog group reporting on the implementation of the Oslo Agreements. He also led the Israeli elections observer team evaluating the Palestinian Authority elections.