Early in May, while Colin Powell was on his visit to Israel and the Occupied Territories, he met with Mahmoud Abbas, the new Palestinian Prime Minister, and separately with a small group of civil society activists, including Hanan Ashrawi and Mostapha Barghuti. According to Barghuti, Powell expressed surprise and mild consternation at the computerized maps of the settlements, the eight-meter-high fence, and the dozens of Israeli Army checkpoints that have made life so difficult and the future so bleak for Palestinians. Powell’s view of Palestinian reality is, to say the least, defective, despite his august position, but he did ask for materials to take away with him and, more important, he reassured the Palestinians that the same effort put in by Bush on Iraq was now going into implementing the road map. Much the same point was made in the last days of May by Bush himself in the course of interviews he gave to the Arab media, although as usual, he stressed generalities rather than anything specific. He met with the Palestinian and Israeli leaders in Jordan and, earlier, with the major Arab rulers, excluding Syria’s Bashir al-Asaad, of course. All this is part of what now looks like a major American push forward. That Ariel Sharon has accepted the road map (with enough reservations to undercut his acceptance) seems to augur well for a viable Palestinian state.
Bush’s vision (the word strikes a weird dreamy note in what is meant to be a hard-headed, definitive and three-phased peace plan) is supposed to be achieved by a restructured Authority, the elimination of all violence and incitement against Israelis, and the installation of a government that meets the requirements of Israel and the so-called Quartet (the US, UN, EU and Russia) that authored the plan. Israel for its part undertakes to improve the humanitarian situation, easing restrictions and lifting curfews, though where and when are not specified. By June 2003, Phase One is also supposed to see the dismantling of the last 60 hilltop settlements (so called “illegal outpost settlements established since March 2001) though nothing is said about removing the others, which account for the 200,000 settlers on the West Bank and Gaza, to say nothing of the 200,000 more in annexed East Jerusalem. Phase Two, described as a transition to run from June to December 2003, is to be focused, rather oddly, on the “option of creating an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders and attributes of sovereignty” — none are specified–culminating in an international conference to approve and then “create” a Palestinian state, once again with “provisional borders.” Phase Three is to end the conflict completely, also by way of an international conference whose job it will be to settle the thorniest issues of all: refugees, < <