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Mideast Leaders Face Challenge of Implementing 'Road Map' - 2003-06-07

With the summit behind them, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the U.S. administration are getting down to the business of implementing the so-called "road map." Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas already is facing a challenge from the radical Islamist group Hamas. The challenge for the Bush administration will be to keep Israeli and Palestinian leaders focused on fulfilling their commitments.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas had barely returned home from the Aqaba summit when critics started voicing their opposition.

For Mr. Sharon, it is Jewish settlers who refuse to give up their presence in the West Bank. For Mr. Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen, it is the radical Islamist groups that oppose any peace deal with Israel and are blamed for suicide bombings that have disrupted earlier peace negotiations.

And that puts a burden on the U.S. government to keep both sides focused on their commitments to the so-called "road map" that envisions the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.

Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and a participant in earlier peace efforts, says the Israeli and Palestinian leaders cannot do it alone.

"We know that, left to their own devices and regardless of the intentions of Abu Mazen and Ariel Sharon, they will not be able to end this conflict, get out of the Intifada and come back to the negotiating table without the direct, personal involvement of the president of the United States," he said.

But many Palestinians and Arabs in neighboring states are skeptical of the U.S. administration, which they consider overly biased toward Israel.

Veteran Middle East analyst Judith Kipper says President Bush's appointment of a U.S. monitoring team could help to dispel that perception if it remains even-handed. Ms. Kipper runs the Middle East Forum at the Council of Foreign Relations in New York.

"It's going to require constant assistance, monitoring and reassurance to get them to do what they need to do in a timely manner," she said. "And if they don't do it, there has to be a consequence. And, the most important consequence that the United States and its partners in the road map have is to go public - simply to say who did what in a timely manner and who did not do what in a timely manner."

Mr. Indyk says that even-handed approach will be tested in the event of another terrorist attack in Israel.

"That will be the critical moment," he said. "If the United States does not use its resources and personal commitment of the president to move in to get one party to act, the Palestinians, and the others, the Israelis to restrain themselves, then the whole process will come apart quite quickly."

Former presidential advisor Flynt Leverett says the Bush administration also must be aware that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat could disrupt peace efforts if they start to falter. The U.S. and Israeli leaders have sidelined Mr. Arafat and deal only with Abu Mazen as their peace partner.

"I don't think we've heard the last or necessarily seen the last of efforts by the chairman to undermine Abu Mazen," he said.

Mr. Leverett says the U.S. administration this time around cannot afford to let the peace process lose its momentum in spite of efforts from critics on both sides to derail it.