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Some Analysts Say Mideast 'Road Map' Hits Dead End - 2003-09-05

Some Middle East analysts say the road map to peace between Israel and the Palestinians appears to have hit a dead end. A fragile truce has unraveled following a Palestinian suicide bombing and the renewal of Israeli targeted killings, seriously jeopardizing hopes the road map will help put an end to nearly three years of violence.

Bush administration officials hoped the victory in the war against Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq would boost chances the road map could end the bitter Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was designed as a step-by-step peace plan to stop violence and eventually lead to a Palestinian state by 2005.

The appointment of a new Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas, and a unilateral cease-fire declared by Palestinian militant groups were hopeful signs that progress could be made.

However, virtually every effort to end the Palestinian "intifada," or uprising that erupted in September 2000 has failed because of an upsurge in bloodshed.

Last month a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up on a Jerusalem bus, killing more than 20 people. Israel responded by carrying out repeated missile strikes against militant leaders, killing more than a dozen Palestinians.

Palestinian president, Yasser Arafat, has declared the road map "dead," although U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas still supports the plan.

"We didn't deal with Yasser Arafat when we were putting the road map together. So his comments don't mean a whole lot to me ,and I am not responding to them in any way. The Palestinian Authority that we deal with, the prime minister who has been our interlocutor because Mr. Arafat has proven to be not a good interlocutor for peace over the years, still is committed to the road map," he said.

Martin Indyk, who has twice served as U.S. ambassador to Israel during efforts to achieve a peace settlement and end the intifada, said he reluctantly agrees with Mr. Arafat that the road map is dead.

"I find myself in the awkward position of agreeing with him," he said. "If in fact it is dead, who killed it? If we try to address that question we come up with familiar explanations. The Palestinians and Israelis failed to live up to their commitments under phase one of the road map. The United States was unwilling to call them on those failures. As a result the process was vulnerable to the next terrorist attack, which wasn't long in coming."

Analysts say the Palestinians did little to control militant groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad while the Israeli government failed to improve the plight of the Palestinians.

They also argue the Bush administration did not do enough to pressure both sides to keep their commitments.

Failure to implement the plan is likely to have an impact on U.S. relations with Arab countries in the Middle East, said Flynt Leverett, who was the administration's Senior Director for Middle East Affairs on the National Security Council until March of this year, and who helped to develop the road map. "For our dealings with key moderate allies in the Arab world, our dealings with Egypt, our dealings with the Saudis for example, I think that the failure of the road map, particularly failure that is attributable at least in part to a kind of lackluster effort at implementing the road map on the part of the administration, is bound to have an impact on the ability and willingness of these moderate regimes to cooperate with us as much as we would like," he added.

Still administration officials like Secretary of State Powell are not ready to give up on the road map, especially since the consequences of doing so are likely to be severe.

"If they don't like the road map, I don't know what they will like. Because the road map shows a way forward to the end of violence, the end of terror and the creation of a Palestinian state," said Secretary Powell. "That was the president's vision put forward on the 24th of June last year. If that doesn't work, as I have said previously, we are going to go off into a ditch or over a cliff."

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process is known for its tortured trail of violent setbacks, and efforts are expected to revive the road map.

In the meantime, Israelis and Palestinians are still dying nearly every day and the third anniversary of the intifada arrives later this month.