Middle East Quartet More Cohesive Than Ever

The road map to peace between Israel and Palestine is expected to be published next week, shortly after new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas /Aba Mazen/ announces his Cabinet.

The road map drawn up by the Middle East Quartet of Russia, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations was supposed to be published back in 2002, but there were repeated delays. First, it was tied to the official results of Israel's parliamentary election, and then to the appointment of a new prime minister in the Palestinian Autonomy.

Although on paper the road map will not be published until the new Palestinian government is announced, in reality it is already being implemented because an administrative reform underway in the Palestinian Autonomy is part of the map's first stage.

The road map is not a peace accord, it only determines the route and the timeframe for each of the three phases of a settlement aimed at peaceful Israeli-Palestinian co-existence. The first phase envisages reforms in the autonomy and focuses on both sides' ending the violence. Phase two, which is expected to be over by the end of 2003, establishes an independent provisional Palestinian state. The last phase involves an agreement dealing with the thorny issues of Jerusalem's status, the return of Palestinian refugees and delimitation. The peace process should be completed by 2005.

The road map takes into account the provisions both Israel and Palestine have been making for years, and the document is "as balanced as it can be," RIA Novosti learned from sources in the Russian Foreign Ministry.

That is why the Quarter insists on both sides to be given the document as it is. Israel is disappointed, because it wanted to make amendments to the road map.

The Israeli government opposes a clear timetable establishing a Palestinian state. Besides, Israel wants to keep the right to deploy troops on the Palestinian territory in the event of a terrorist attack. But Israel's greatest worry is the issue of Palestinian refugees. It wants Palestinian refugees to relinquish the right of return to the Jewish state's territory.

However, Head of the Israeli Prime Minister's Bureau Dov Weisglas has failed in his attempt to make the Bush Administration accept Israel's provisions to the road map during his visit to Washington. US Secretary of State Colin Powell said that the road map would be published and submitted for consideration without the Israeli provisions. Moreover, the Israelis were appalled to hear that the road map is based on the US President's Middle East initiative unveiled on June 24, 2002 and the proposals to settle the crisis put forward by Saudi Arabia at the Arab League summit in 2002.

The Bush Administration first turned to the Saudi settlement plan, opposed by Israel, because it stipulates the right for Palestinian refugees to return, declares East Jerusalem as Palestine's capital and proposes Israel's retreat to the 1967 borders. Israel was more pleased with the Bush initiative alone. In his June speech the US President pointed out that the United States would support the creation of a Palestinian state only "when the Palestinian people have new leaders, new institutions and new security arrangements with their neighbours." The US President gave no names, but it was clear that he meant first of all Arafat's resignation.

Russia, the European Union and the United Nations vehemently opposed such a scenario. A compromise was found.

Power is being redistributed in the Palestinian government, but this is a gradual process without violence or interference of third countries as was the case in Iraq. "Palestinian reforms were not imposed from the outside, the country itself was ready for them," the Russian Foreign Ministry stresses. All international mediators had to do was to give Palestinians some support.

Russian diplomatic sources point out that Moscow did a lot to keep the Israeli-Palestinian settlement within the established Quartet, because only "a collective intermediary mission can bring about a peace settlement." No member of the Quartet must act unilaterally, as it may tip the balance in favour of either side in the conflict. Naturally, differences within the quartet exist, although minor ones, RIA Novosti's sources report.

Obviously, the road map is not merely a copy of the Bush initiative, but an outcome of the Quartet's joint efforts. That it why it came as no surprise when an anonymous source in the US Administration remarked to the New York Times that any changes to the road map could only be made in consultation with other members of the Middle East Quartet.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell specified that the two sides were free to comment on the map, although the comments would be taken into account after the document acquired an official status. Moscow does not rule out that both Israelis and Palestinians will want to make their own provisions, which may be taken into account during the implementation process.

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