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MIDDLE EAST: Road Map to Peace

Author: Sharon Otterman
January 10, 2005
This publication is now archived.

What is the "road map?"

A U.S.-backed peace proposal first floated in 2002, the road map sets a series of benchmarks designed to move Israelis and Palestinians over three years to the creation of a Palestinian state that exists in peace with Israel. The Palestinians and Israelis accepted the basic outlines of the plan shortly after it was formally introduced by President Bush in June 2003. However, there has been limited progress toward its goal: a permanent two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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What does the plan call on Israelis and Palestinians to do?

Both sides are required to take immediate steps to end violence and create the conditions for a lasting peace. As first steps, Israel must immediately dismantle what are called settlement "outposts," extensions of Israeli colonies built in the Palestinian territories, and Palestinian leaders must immediately curb terrorism and take steps toward a democratic, accountable government.

What is the plan's status?

It remains the baseline for Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations, even though the specific dates in the plan--which suggested the creation of a provisional Palestinian state by the end of 2003--no longer apply. The Israeli government says the Palestinians failed to rein in the suicide bombers and gunmen of Hamas and other extremist groups; the Palestinians say Israel wasn't committed to ending settlement expansion. Recent events--the death of Yasir Arafat and his replacement by Mahmoud Abbas, and Israel's pledge to unilaterally withdraw all settlements from the Gaza Strip and a handful from the West Bank--have raised hopes that the road map process could be revived.

Does it resolve longstanding issues like the borders of a Palestinian state or the status of Jerusalem?

No. The plan doesn't include specific details of a final agreement. Instead, it leaves such "final status" issues open to subsequent negotiations. As a result, some experts consider the road map more of a ceasefire agreement or general framework than a specific blueprint for peace.

Who wrote the road map?

It was drafted by the U.S. State Department, based on a speechPresident Bush gave in June 2002 that laid out a vision of Israeli and Palestinian states living in peace. It was then modified and endorsed by the group known as the Quartet--representatives of the European Union, Russia, the United Nations, and the United States--that was set up to work on Middle East peace. The Palestinians, Israelis, and other parties in the Middle East were consulted, but did not directly participate in the plan's creation.

How is the peace plan structured?

It lays out a three-phase process that, according to its preamble, will "bring an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories that began in 1967" and create "an independent, democratic Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbors." The Quartet is to monitor and facilitate the peace process.

What are the "Palestinian territories?"

Broadly, they are the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem, though exact borders are not identified.

What are the plan's three phases?
  • The first phase is designed to end Palestinian-Israeli violence, freeze Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, strengthen and reform the Palestinian government, known as the Palestinian Authority, and ease the harsh conditions created by the Israeli security crackdown on the 3.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
  • The second phase will lead to the creation of a provisional Palestinian state with temporary borders.
  • In the third phase, final negotiations will be held on the permanent borders of a Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem, and international recognition for both Palestine and Israel.
Does the road map deal with the contentious issue of Palestinian refugees?

No. According to international law, all refugees have a right to return to their place of origin. But if all the Palestinian refugees who claim to come from Israel--estimated to be about 3.7 million--try to return, both sides agree it would quickly spell the end of the Jewish state. The current population of Israeli is 6.4 million people, with 5.2 million Jews.

How does the road map compare to the 1993 Oslo Accords?

Experts say that, in some ways, it is much the same. Like the Oslo Accords, which collapsed in 2000 without being implemented, the road map sets incremental steps on a path toward Middle East peace. Both documents are frameworks for negotiations, not set agreements.

But there are important differences that give some experts hope that the road map could fare better than the Oslo process. In the road map, both sides will agree at the outset on the goal of a Palestinian state. Oslo did not endorse a final settlement, leaving it open to negotiation. In addition, the Oslo Accords didn't include international monitoring; the road map calls for the Quartet to monitor progress and remain engaged.

Does the plan require that all of its terms be fulfilled in three years?

No. Although the plan does set out a suggested timetable--peace by the end of 2005--it is also "performance-based, which means that it will move forward only when the Israelis and Palestinians are judged to have met the benchmarks. The quartet--or, if the Israelis have their way, the United States--will judge when each goal is met, according to criteria that are not yet specified.

Does the road map apply only to Israeli-Palestinian relations?

No. It also calls for progress toward comprehensive peace agreements between Israel and Lebanon, and Israel and Syria.

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