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Interview with Geoffrey Aronson, Foundation for Middle East Peace - 2003-05-01


The U.S. and members of the Middle East Quartet have released their "Roadmap to Peace." The peace plan faces many obstacles, including doubt of its effectiveness in easing the long standing Israeli-Palestinian tensions. VOA's David Borgida joins Geoffrey Aronson, Director of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, to discuss the coming challenges of this latest endeavor.

MR. BORGIDA
And now joining us to discuss prospects for a Middle East peace, Geoffrey Aronson, who is the Director of the Foundation for Middle East Peace.

Obviously this is a moment that perhaps you and your colleagues have been waiting for, but let's, as some people say, be realistic here. With the violence that we have seen and with the record of violence following more progress, is there a roadmap to peace that is worth a lot at this stage, Mr. Aronson?

MR. ARONSON
Well, there is somewhere out there a roadmap to peace. Whether these are the directions is yet to be seen.

One can only hope that the concentration on diplomatic solutions to this problem will now come to the fore and convince those who are violently opposed to the status quo to turn their energies into something that will be more productive down the road.

MR. BORGIDA
Let's follow up on that. To convince those who are violently opposed, how does one do that? That has been a challenge for many, many years.

MR. ARONSON
Right. And we have tried a number of avenues over the last year and a half. The Israelis have pursued a policy aiming at the physical destruction of these people. That hasn't worked. And I think the fact that the roadmap is now on the table admits in some fashion that we need to create what we used to call a political horizon, to enable the Palestinian community to convince its own militants and those people who are violently opposed that there is a political payoff here that is worth pursuing, and that that payoff is good enough to undermine the popular support for people who are violently opposed to the status quo.

MR. BORGIDA
Many commentators have been asking this question, and I will join in the chorus. This is obviously a real challenge for the new Palestinian Prime Minister. How does Mahmoud Abbas go about doing what he needs to do to get this roadmap moving ahead?

MR. ARONSON
Well, certainly the expectations that accompany his installation are quite high. In fact, they are higher amongst Israelis and members of the Quartet than they are in the Palestinian community, ironically because, according to the latest polls, the Palestinians don't hold much hope that this prescription for resolving the conflict is going to get them anywhere. So, first and foremost, I think he has to convince his own people that what he is suggesting will result in a political payoff that they are waiting for.

And, for better or worse, the way in which the roadmap is constructed, most of the so-called concessions that will have to be made up front are those that fall upon the Palestinian Authority. So that Abu Mazen will be forced to take measures without any promise of the kind of political payoff he may need in order to convince his own community that these concessions are worth making.

MR. BORGIDA
There is some pressure, however, too, on Ariel Sharon, in terms of settlements and so on, isn't there?

MR. ARONSON
Yes, absolutely. The question is, however, at what stage of the game are those requirements going to kick in? The roadmap is ambiguous on that point. And it is a document of only three or four pages, which needs to be filled out in terms of how one implements it. And I would expect the struggle today to turn from the attempt to change the wording of the roadmap itself to the struggle and the bargaining over how one implements it.

MR. BORGIDA
Now, we talked about the Palestinian Prime Minister. We've talked, too, about Ariel Sharon. There is also a role for the United States to play here. But before we get your thoughts on that, I want to turn to a comment made just a few hours ago here in Washington by Secretary of State Colin Powell. He had this to say about the roadmap during congressional testimony:

[Videotaped remarks of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell:]

SECRETARY POWELL
Early this morning, Ambassador Kurtzer, Ambassador to Israel, presented the roadmap to Prime Minister Sharon. And representatives of the Quartet presented the roadmap to Prime Minister now, the first Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Abu Mazen. And I had an opportunity to call both Prime Ministers early this morning and to encourage them to do everything in their respective powers to make sure we get a good start down this path to peace. A new opportunity is being created.

[End of videotaped remarks.]

MR. BORGIDA
Secretary of State Colin Powell there in testimony before Congress, indicating that the United States continues to talk to both sides as an intermediary. What about the U.S. role, is there anything that the United States and the Bush administration have to do to change the course so that progress is at least visually more attainable?

MR. ARONSON
Well, the United States is the big boy on the block here. And all sides look to the United States for leadership in any diplomatic effort, which has a reasonable chance of success. The record so far, however, suggests that a more productive avenue for effective diplomacy would be direct, and perhaps even secret, negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians themselves. That, after all, was the roadmap that was followed in the Oslo process.

However, that avenue seems closed to us now. So, the United States is required to devote the kind of energies that we hope it will in order to keep the pressure on both parties to conform to a roadmap which will stop the violence.

MR. BORGIDA
But, Mr. Aronson, there have at times been cases, I believe, in this long history where there have been these secret meetings at various stages along the way. And I ask you this tough question with so many so determined to seek violence and to thwart peace, how does one get there if there is a culture from both sides in some ways that does not want to see peace and two states simultaneously by the year 2005?

MR. ARONSON
Well, certainly history argues in your favor here.

MR. BORGIDA
I hate to be the pessimist here, but I want to be realistic.

MR. ARONSON
The Middle East is full of broken promises and broken treaties and peace plans that went nowhere. My bookshelf is full of them. However, we're at the moment we're at today, and given the history and the violence of the last two years at least, it's incumbent upon all people who still believe that this problem is fixable to get down and get dirty and keep the pressure on both parties to resolve their problems around the table and not through the sight of a gun.

MR. BORGIDA
Well, we hope it is fixable. And certainly that is all of our collective views on the subject.

Geoffrey Aronson, Director of the Foundation for Middle East Peace. Thanks so much for joining us today.

MR. ARONSON
My pleasure.

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