Let the Fight for Peace Begin

Martin S. Indyk
Martin S. Indyk
Martin S. Indyk Former Brookings Expert, Distinguished Fellow - The Council on Foreign Relations

August 21, 2003

The bomb that killed at least 18 Israelis on a Jerusalem bus Tuesday now threatens to destroy the Bush administration’s peace plan. While President Bush should try to salvage the so-called road map, he should also realize that it remains fundamentally flawed. Not until a Palestinian leadership emerges that is capable of dismantling the infrastructure of terrorism will the peace process move forward—with or without a road map.

Trying to save the road map is a worthwhile cause; both sides have already agreed to it, and it represents the best chance for restoring immediate order. Sooner rather than later, however, a much bolder approach will be called for: an international protectorate, led by the United States, that would put the Palestinian territories in trust and supervise the establishment of a Palestinian state with democratic political institutions, a transparent economic structure, an independent judiciary and an effective security force.

How can President Bush help make this ideal a reality? He needs to start by making it clear to both Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian prime minister, that he expects them to cooperate with a new American initiative to salvage the road map.

Like other peace plans before it, the road map is beset by paralysis. From the moment the president unveiled it in June 2002, it has been all too apparent that the Palestinian Authority’s lack of capacity to fulfill its commitments would place the whole process in jeopardy.

Mr. Abbas and Muhammad Dahlan, the Palestinian security minister, cannot and will not act against terrorist groups until they gain greater popular support from Palestinians. To achieve this support, they need Israel to remove settlement outposts and checkpoints, release prisoners in significant numbers and withdraw the Israeli Defense Forces from West Bank cities and towns. But Mr. Sharon cannot make serious moves in these areas until Mr. Abbas and Mr. Dahlan act against the terrorist infrastructure.

To break this cycle, the Bush administration should negotiate a package deal: the Palestinians would agree to act against Fatah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The Israelis would agree to dismantle the outposts, freeze settlement activity and withdraw the Israeli Defense Forces from Palestinian territory. The United States would then act as guarantor, developing a detailed monitoring and reporting plan to ensure that each side carries out its commitments fully and promptly.

This deal, however, would need to be tailored to existing Palestinian security capacities. Instead of insisting on a general and currently impossible effort to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, the United States should work with Mr. Dahlan to define feasible security tasks. These should include the arrests of the people in Hebron and Nablus who dispatched the most recent suicide bombers, the closing of Hamas’s rocket factories in southern Gaza and action against the gangs in Rafah responsible for smuggling weapons from Egypt to Gaza. The United States should also identify the appropriate Israeli responses, like the withdrawal of its forces from West Bank cities where the Palestinian Authority is about to assume control.

There is nothing especially new about this approach. The rebuilding of the peace process has always required reciprocal steps. What is novel, however, is the role of the United States: it would act as guarantor and monitor of each step. Thus both prime ministers would know that if they took the necessary political risks in confronting Palestinian terrorists or Israeli settlers, the United States would ensure the other side did its part.

In the meantime, the president needs to act more quickly and effectively in restructuring the Palestinian security services to help Mr. Abbas and Mr. Dahlan battle terrorists. At this point only a fraction of Palestinian security services are under their control; the rest still answer to Yasir Arafat, who has no interest in cooperating with an effort that would rob him of his residual relevance.

Ultimately, however, the president must recognize that all such efforts to implement the road map are necessary but not sufficient. They constitute a salvage project that is still likely to fall short of generating the responsible, capable Palestinian partner Mr. Bush must have to realize his ambition of a democratic Palestinian state.

For that vision to be achieved, a more comprehensive approach will be required. With United Nations backing, the United States should establish a trusteeship for Palestine, relieving Mr. Arafat of his power and providing an American-led force to fight terrorists alongside the Palestinian security services.

The United States would have to supervise Palestinian reformers in their efforts to build accountable institutions. It would have to recruit the young Palestinian nationalists who have now fought Israel in two uprisings to the task of Palestinian state-building. And it would need Israel to cooperate by withdrawing the Israeli Defense Forces from Palestinian territories and evacuating sufficient settlements to provide contiguous territory to the Palestinian state-in-the-making.

Many within and outside the administration can be expected to oppose nation-building in Palestine, especially in view of the difficult experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq. From all accounts President Bush is sincere about creating a democratic Palestinian state living in peace next to a secure Israel. But it should be clear by now that the road map alone won’t get him there.