JERUSALEM — As the euphoria of President Bush’s peace initiative fades, opponents of Bush’s “road map” are hardly voicing second thoughts about their refusal to go along with the plan. But with a handful of exceptions — Tourism Minister Benny Elon’s Jordan-is-Palestine doctrine, Housing Minister Effi Eitam’s call for a Palestinian state in Sinai — few opponents are willing or able to offer an alternative plan for peace with the Palestinians.
Mostly, it appears, they consider peace with the Palestinians unlikely. Their plan, if it has a common denominator, is to hold tight — until and unless the Palestinians show a genuine change of heart.
“Let’s adopt President Bush’s model,” said Cabinet minister Uzi Landau, a leading Likud hard-liner, referring to Bush’s Middle East speech of June 2002. “First eradicate the terrorist infrastructure, which is harbored by the Palestinian Authority. Only after there is a change in the Palestinian leadership — a leadership that will fight terrorism — only then is there any chance.”
“Their political goals need not change,” Landau said of the Palestinians, “but as a litmus test, to show they really wish to have peace, let them change their horrible educational system and put a stop to calling on future generations to be suicide bombers. I don’t believe the present leadership is prepared to change the education system.”
Landau was one of those who voted “No” when Bush’s road map was endorsed by the Israeli Cabinet on May 25 in a 12-7 vote, with four abstentions. The road map calls for a staged process leading to an independent Palestinian state within three years.
Opponents of the road map have been depicted as die-hard opponents of Palestinian statehood, but not all of them are. Landau says he has “no preconditions” for entering negotiations. What comes out depends on the intentions going in.
Similarly, for Cabinet minister Natan Sharansky, who recently joined the Likud through its merger with his small, Russian-immigrant party, the crucial issue is not whether there is a Palestinian state but what kind of country Israel will have as its neighbor.
“I believe the state has to be the result of deep and serious reform,” Sharansky said. “The bigger the reform, the deeper the concession, and the core is democracy.”
Sharansky argues that rushing forward with symbols of democracy, such as elections, is a false notion of reform, because the Palestinian people are not used to freedom. More important than elections is a reform of the Palestinian leadership, and a commitment to fight terror. “Elections are the end of the process, when all the institutions are built, so they can live and choose without fear of a different way of life,” he said.
Sharansky, who like Landau voted against the peace plan, says his personal road map is Bush’s June 24, 2002 speech. He has been given credit for helping to shape the speech through discussions he had with Vice President Dick Cheney the week before in Colorado.
In a meeting with Cheney earlier this month, Sharansky said the vice president assured him that Bush’s speech is still the main blueprint for the Middle East. “I believe him,” Sharansky said.
Internal Security Minister Tzahi Hanegbi, one of the four Likud ministers who abstained, agreed that the road map should contain no prior conditions. He said he objects to embarking on talks that predetermine Israel’s “red lines.” Nevertheless, his position on an eventual Palestinian state is simple: No. “I believe that if a sovereign Palestinian state will be established in the heart of our homeland, it is going to jeopardize our very existence,” Hanegbi said.
With such a hard-line stance, why did Hanegbi abstain, instead of voting “No”? The answer was in the 14 detailed reservations that Sharon appended to his endorsement of the road map.
“We came to the government meeting in order to vote against it,” Hanegbi said, citing Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Limor Livnat as allies. “But during the meeting, the prime minister agreed to include the 14 points as a guideline for the political process with the Palestinians,” he said, and after winning that, he felt obliged to abstain
Hanegbi said that while he flatly opposes Palestinian statehood, he will not join any anti-road map campaigns, because the process in any case is not going anywhere soon.
“The prime minister believes that [the road map] is in the best interest of the country, but he limits the Palestinian state in such a way that it is not going to be really effective,” Hanegbi said. And since the Palestinians and Americans won’t agree to Sharon’s terms, he said, “I don’t see that there is going to be established a Palestinian state within the term of this prime minister.”
For Social Affairs Minister Zevulun Orlev of the National Religious Party, by contrast, Palestinian statehood is the issue.
“Not only from the beginning can’t we accept a Palestinian state; even at the end we can’t,” he said. “There is no room for two states between the Jordan and the sea. That’s the main problem.”
“We are not against negotiations,” Orlev said. “We do not want to have the army in Shechem or Ramallah or Jenin or Hebron. We have no reason to control 3 million Palestinians. But we don’t think there should be a Palestinian state, because a Palestinian state is a threat to the State of Israel.”
If such uncompromising positions leave the Palestinians with no incentive to even come to the bargaining table, Orlev is not concerned. “If they don’t want to come, then don’t come, what can I do about it? Why do I have to tell them at the beginning what I want to do at the end? Have they promised anything? Have they promised anything about the right of return? They want something? Then let them sit down and discuss it with us.”
How such a road map would fly in the face of international and regional Arab resistance is not a problem for Orlev. He believes American public opinion will understand Israel’s security needs, and that the dangers of Palestinian statehood can be explained to Congress and the public.
Orlev says he has nothing against national rights for the Palestinians, but asked what his bottom line is — what he would do with the 3 million Arabs he doesn’t want to control — he answers simply, “We have a lot of answers, but I don’t have to give them now.”