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Geoff Aronson, Foundation for Middle East Peace, speaks about the U.S.-backed “road map” for peace in Israel, 6-06-03 - 2003-06-06


VOA-TV’s Jim Bertel speaks about the U.S.-backed “road map” for peace with Geoff Aronson, Director of the Foundation for Middle East Peace.

MR. BERTEL
Joining me now to discuss the road map to peace is Geoff Aronson, Director of the Foundation for Middle East Peace. Thank you for being with us.

MR. ARONSON
My pleasure.

MR. BERTEL
At the summits in Egypt and Jordan this week we saw beautiful images, heard hopeful words, and yet I have to wonder, is there anything different with President Bush's initiative than the attempts we've seen in the past?

MR. ARONSON
Well, you're right that the scenery was gorgeous. And one would hope that the prospects for peace between the two parties would be as bright as the sun was the day in Sharm el-Sheikh and Aqaba. I'm sorry to say, however, that the performance is still outstanding. We still have to wait and see the degree to which both parties can actually perform on the good words that they articulated at the summit.

The involvement of President Bush two years into his term is an important development insofar as it suggests that the White House is now going to become more fully engaged and interested in the need for prospects for peace between the two peoples. And one can only hope that it will produce something.

MR. BERTEL
Well, let's look at each side individually, starting with Israel. Prime Minister Sharon's political base is very much against removing the settlements in the Gaza and elsewhere. Does he have the political support to make this happen?

MR. ARONSON
Well, if anyone does in the current constellation of Israeli politics, it is Ariel Sharon, whose own career over the last many decades has been front and center devoted to expanding the civilian Israeli presence in territories that Israel occupied in June 1967. To the degree that he wants to moderate that expansion, he risks losing members of his cabinet. However, until that day occurs -- and it has not yet occurred -- we haven't seen a real performance in terms of evacuating and dismantling civilian settlements. Members of his cabinet are still in there and, however reluctantly, they're hoping that he will perform true to his past history and protect and defend rather than endanger the settlement enterprise in these areas.

MR. BERTEL
Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas also has his own set of problems. Yesterday Yasser Arafat said that Mr. Sharon could not be trusted as far as the things he said on Wednesday. And then today Hamas came out and said they were breaking off talks with Mr. Abbas because he does not speak for them. He has a lot of trouble ahead, doesn't he?

MR. ARONSON
Well, every party in this issue has constituencies that may not agree fully, or at all in some cases, with the thrust of their policies. That's what has made this issue so complex and so unending for many, many decades. We'll just have to wait and see if we can construct a political framework which offers enough to enough people to either moderate the opposition of those people or to isolate them politically and otherwise permit a political process to go forward.

MR. BERTEL
Even as these talks are going on, settlements continue to be built, fences constructed in areas where the new Palestinian state could end up. What is it going to take to roll those efforts back?

MR. ARONSON
Well, it's certainly true that one needs to keep one's eye on the ball. And in this case the ball is the actual physical territory itself. Ariel Sharon carries maps around whenever he travels and shows maps to people like President Bush, and Prime Minister Abbas as well. He knows the terrain of that part of the Middle East. And facts create their own dynamics, and settlement facts in particular.

And today, notwithstanding the road map, Israel is embarking upon one of its most important thrusts of construction in the Occupied Territories. The largest construction project in Israel is now underway in the West Bank, constructing a separation zone both on the eastern side of the West Bank and also the western side of the West Bank, which ultimately could exclude some Palestinian controlled territory, as much as half of the West Bank.

So, that's a development that cannot easily proceed in tandem with progress on the road map.

MR. BERTEL
Now, on the American side, Condoleezza Rice is going to be the representative of President Bush dealing directly with both sides. In the past we've had special envoys doing that. Is this a positive sign that the clout of the Oval Office is behind this effort?

MR. ARONSON
Well, it certainly raises the profile of the whole enterprise to have a person who reports directly to the President involved in this issue. We have yet to see, or it has yet to become clear, to what extent she herself is going to take an active, everyday role in managing the process. There was an appointment as well of a State Department official who is going to reside in the area itself, along with a team of 10 or 12 people, to monitor the implementation of the commitments that both leaders have made.

So, again, we'll just have to see to what degree she becomes involved in this and how effective she can be if in fact she is involved.

MR. BERTEL
Many say the Oslo Peace Accord was doomed to fail because there was no accountability. With the road map that we see now, is there accountability on both sides?

MR. ARONSON
Well, again, we'll have to wait and see the degree to which each side is held accountable to a standard. The indications so far, if one looks specifically at the road map's requirements upon Israel in regards to settlements and territory, are not that encouraging. So, we'll have to see the degree to which the political commitment can be mobilized among all parties to address these issues seriously and consistently and with goodwill.

MR. BERTEL
So, once again, time will tell.

MR. ARONSON
Let's hope so.

MR. BERTEL
Geoff Aronson, Director of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, thank you for being with us today.

MR. ARONSON
My pleasure.

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