As the Iraqi war has wound down, the United States has been promoting a “road map” intended to solve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Together with the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia, the US defines the road map’s destination as “a final and comprehensive settlement of the Israel–Palestinian conflict by 2005.” The “settlement, negotiated between the parties, will,” they hope, “result in the emergence of an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbors.”
Phase I of the map requires the Palestinians “to undertake an unconditional cessation of violence,” while “Israel freezes all settlement activity” and “immediately dismantles settlement outposts erected since March 2001.” In Phase II, if the mutual security and many other measures of Phase I have been fulfilled, “an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders” will be created by December 2003. In Phase III, a final peace treaty will be signed sometime during the year 2005, which will resolve borders and the status of Jerusalem, refugees, and the settlements—and the Arab–Israeli conflict will be over.
While postwar Iraq remains in chaos, we can wonder whether the road map is realistic, or whether it is a leap into wishful thinking. Recent developments, including the hedged acceptance of the plan by Ariel Sharon’s cabinet and the meeting on June 4 of President Bush with Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas in Jordan, suggest that the President is now more committed to making the road map work than was hitherto supposed. But can he?
In late April, in the north of the Gaza Strip, near the Mediterranean Sea, I visited the town of Beit Hanoun, which has been devastated by the Israeli army, and the surrounding countryside. Following several suicide bombings and other violent episodes, the army, according to the mayor of Beit Hanoun, destroyed twenty-five water wells and the sewage system, which resulted in drinking water being mixed with raw sewage. Standing near a blasted bridge I could see jagged, broken sewage pipes emptying into a pool of fetid water. “When we repair the bridges and the pipes,” the mayor said, “the Israelis bomb them again.”
In the northern Gaza Strip many houses had been destroyed or badly damaged. Paved roads were broken up by Israeli bulldozers; great tracts of farmland—citrus groves, olive trees, greenhouses as well—were uprooted to create no man’s lands around the Israeli settlements of Alai Sinai, Nevets Sala, and Nisanit. Wooden watchtowers near the settlements protruded from the barren earth; I saw Israeli soldiers watching us through binoculars from the crests of sandy hills. Among the shanties of tin and plaster in the refugee camp of Jabaliya, I met an elderly gentleman beside the rubble of his house, which had recently been destroyed by an Israeli tank. “Do you hate the Israelis?” I asked him. “No,” he answered, “I hate what they’ve done.”
A week later, I was in Tel Aviv, standing …