There has rarely been as unhappy and lachrymose a lot as members of the Quartet - the United States, Europe, the United Nations and Russia - who met once again in New York this past Friday to bewail the troubles of the Middle East road map. President George W. Bush reportedly regrets ever having gone to Aqaba to launch this latest peace initiative, and the three other Quartet partners regret ever having allowed America to assume the leadership.
Nevertheless, the communiqué issued after their meeting did not concede that the initiative is dead, nor that it failed because Bush did not deliver on his promise "to ride herd" on both parties. It is time for the Quartet to face up to certain truths, and the first being that they have allowed themselves to be completely marginalized by what Bush believes to be the exigencies of his re-election campaign. They have been left with even less influence on Israel and the Palestinians than they had while having lost the moral high ground they previously held.
The time is long past due for Europe, and those who would join it, to affirm certain fundamentals:
The Palestinian national struggle, even when dishonored and diminished by terrorism against innocent civilians, is not to be equated with America's global war with Al Qaeda and the organization's ideological reign of terror. Palestinians are engaged in a struggle for national self-determination; all such national struggles, including Zionism, have resorted to terrorism. The violence of the Palestinian struggle, again like the violence of all other national struggles, can be resolved only in a political framework that unambiguously accepts the fundamental national aspirations of the Palestinian people.
This means an unequivocal commitment to a Palestinian state alongside the pre-1967 borders of Israel, subject only to exchanges of territory to accommodate Israel's security and comparable Palestinian needs. Such adjustments can only be the result of negotiations, not unilateral pre-emption.
For their part, Palestinians must accept that self-determination means that Palestinian refugees cannot exercise a right of return, other than in a symbolic way. For were they to do so, they would extinguish the Jewish people's quest for self-determination.
A commitment to Palestinian statehood before all violence ends has been falsely characterized by some as rewarding terrorism. It is no such thing. It is rewarding an end to terrorism, since the path to statehood does not begin until terrorism ends. It confirms that legitimate Palestinian goals are achievable only by nonviolent means. Presently, Palestinians have no reason to believe that viable statehood is achievable even if they pay the price for ending terrorism, which may involve a Palestinian civil war.
With the failure of the road map, Europeans must finally be willing to declare that no peace initiative has the slightest chance without first stopping all further Israeli settlement expansion. The notion that Palestinians can be expected to take seriously a peace initiative whose ostensible purpose it is to establish a Palestinian state even as Israel is allowed to continue stealing Palestinian land is absurd.
Even more absurd is the notion that Israel cannot be asked to end further settlement activity before terrorism has ended. If there is a link between the two, it is precisely in the opposite direction. Palestinians will not support measures to "dismantle" Hamas and Islamic Jihad until Israel's continuing theft of their land has stopped.
The argument that the consequences of Palestinian terrorism, unlike the consequences of settlements, are irreversible, and that a moral equation of the two is therefore unacceptable, is specious. The settlements are part of a deliberate strategy of politicide by Israel's rightist government. Its purpose is to extinguish Palestinian national existence.
There is little reason to believe the Bush administration will muster the courage to speak out forthrightly against Sharon's campaign of politicide even if it wins the presidential elections. But if Europe and others take a principled position by speaking the truth, perhaps the peace camp in Israel will rediscover its voice before the Zionist enterprise is overwhelmed by Palestinian demographics.
The writer is a senior fellow on the Middle East at the Council on Foreign Relations. These views are his own.