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Pioneer Journalist Nellie Bly

Glass Ceiling in Media

Joint Distribution Committee: "Grandpa's Safe Haven"

A Conversation with Arianna Huffington

Culture Gaps and Gaffes: Perception Is Everything

A Reluctant Freelancer

A Conversation with Helen Thomas

Israel vs. the United Nations

Yasser Arafat—Legacy or Lunacy?

Israel: No Peace, No Process?

The Israeli Press on the Road Map: Bumpy Road Ahead

The Israeli Press Reacts to the Prisoner Exchange with Hizbollah

Israel’s Security Fence—Back To The Wall

A Woman President in the White House?

New York Stories:
Freedom of Speech

New York Stories:
9/11—Tilting at Windmills

German Press on Iraq: Front Line Berlin

Bush Takes On Europe—Again

A European in New York

Jewish Lawyers Defending Anti-Semites?

Cooperation and Competition — American Jewry and Israel's Development

In Memoriam Yehuda Amichai

In Memoriam Hildegard Knef

2000... And the Emperor Still Has No Clothes

 

 

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Timetable for
the Road Map

Phase I:
PA: Ending terror and violence; normalizing Palestinian life; building Palestinian institutions.
Israel: dismantlement of settlements erected since March 2001; freeze settlement activity; efforts to improve the humanitarian situation of the Palestinians.

Phase II (to be completed by December 2003):
Transition—creation of an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders;

Phase III (to be completed by 2005):
Permanent status agreement and end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Settling of outstanding issues (return of Palestinian refugees and the final status of Jerusalem).

 

 

"Bumpy Road Ahead"—the Israeli press reacts to the road map

By Tekla Szymanski


“The settlers—those who want to convince us that they are the true descendents of the Zionist pioneers—destroy the Zionist dream of a normal Jewish sovereign existence in our own land. The true Zionists are those people who strive for normalcy, who leave their homes in the morning and return in the evening, who consider their children's toothaches a bigger problem than fulfilling the dream of a Jewish presence in the heart of Arab villages.”
—Natan Sznaider, Academy College, Tel Aviv

Yediot AharonotJune 5 - August 24, 2003:


The euphoria evaporated like morning dew in the desert sun. The June 4 meeting in Aqaba, Jordan, between Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (aka Abu Mazen), Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and U.S. President George W. Bush was meant to set the stage for the implementation of the road map, which the right-wing, pro-settler daily Hatzofeh called in its editorial of Aug.13, "the most scandalous plan in the history of the state." The road map was meant as a guideline for the revival of Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations backed by the United States, the United Nations, Russia, and the European Union (see timetable below). For the first time since the Oslo peace process collapsed in September 2000, the prospect of peace between Israelis and Palestinians within the next few years looked like little more than a pleasant fantasy.

But this optimism was soon taken over by violence, after a temporary cease-fireMa'ariv (hudna) between militant groups and Israel collapsed in August with renewed suicide bombings, killing scores of Israelis, including many children.
Tel Aviv's liberal Ha'aretz commented on Aug. 24: "The collapse of the hudna in a wave of terrorist attacks and assassinations, Israel Defense Forces raids on towns in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, and the freeze on the implementation of the road map are all reminiscent of the wretched days before the army launched Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002.... Abbas's government accepted responsibility for implementing the road map and, primarily, for aggressively combating terrorism. The deterioration in the security situation has exposed the weakness of the Abbas government in the face of Hamas' increased power and PA Chairman Yasser Arafat's subversive efforts... In order for Bush to be 'very much engaged' in forging a Mideast peace, as he promised, however, he must tighten American supervision on the implementation of the road map. The United States must demonstrate a level of determination fitting of a power that has declared its commitment to peace in the region—this, of course, without exempting the Israelis and Palestinians themselves from the responsibility for a deterioration in the situation and from the need to halt it wisely."

The conservative English-language The Jerusalem Post commented (Aug. 21): "Since the launching of the road map and the beginning of the 'cease-fire,' Mahmoud Abbas and [PA Defense Minister] Muhammad Dahlan have been clear about one thing: There will be no Palestinian civil war. They have insisted that they will end terror by their own methods, namely persuasion, without the use of force... There will be no Palestinian state unless there is first a Palestinian leadership that proves not only that it has broken decisively with terrorism, but with the idea that the only purpose of a state is to continue the war against Israel. We see no signs that Abbas and Dahlan are capable of proving either proposition. Their failure will spell the end of their leadership role, of the PA, and of any Palestinian, Israeli, and American hopes that this is the 'new leadership, not compromised by terror' that President George W. Bush spoke of in June of last year... We will know that a Palestinian leadership has arisen that truly wishes to live by Israel's side when that leadership forcibly confronts those who do not. The idea that people who are willing to die to kill Israeli children can be sweetly talked out of their beliefs is not credible. The Palestinians must choose if they want a state or unity under a banner of terror."

"[T]he deadly suicide bombing in Jerusalem [on Aug. 19] ...is proof that [Palestinian militants] did not keep their word," commented Ze'ev Schiff in Ha'aretz (Aug. 20). "[The] attack, the first such incident since the declaration of the hudna at the end of June, marks a personal failure for Mahmoud Abbas and Mohammed Dahlan himself....This deterioration in Palestinian society—which maintains only an extremely thin layer at its top that is called the 'Palestinian Authority'—strengthens those who think that it is impossible to control what happens in the territories."

 

In the Beginning...

Ha'aretzMany journalists, particularly from the Israeli left, had been eager to believe that the road map would jump-start the peace negotiations and bring much needed impetus to the Middle East peace process, though others had cautioned that the violence would continue and that a civil war over the dismantlement of settlements as just a matter of time. The upswing in violence, however, that followed the ceremony at Aqaba caused the media to ponder whether Abu Mazen was willing, and able, to curb Palestinian extremists. But then, at the end of June, a temporary cease-fire was signed between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Fatah (by order of Arafat). The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine did not join in the declaration but would not violate the truce. Many Israeli commentators snipped that the agreement wasn't worth the paper it was signed on.

On July 1, 2003, Ha'aretz wrote: "Both sides have before them a feasible working plan, the road map, whose principles have been agreed on by the Israeli and Palestinian governments. It is not a magic recipe for it requires hard work and many concessions on both sides. This sequel will now depend on the Israel Defense Forces' (IDF) reactions, on the extent of restraint the government displays, and on practical measures for the welfare of Palestinian residents, no less than it will depend on the Palestinians' capability to calm the territory down and prevent terror attacks. Paradoxically, it is the opposition groups' decision on the three-month cease-fire that has now created a time-limited trial period. Both sides will not only have to get through it safely, but take advantage of the period to intensively promote the political process."

Aqaba: A Turning Point?

A day after the summit, in a June 5 article for Tel Aviv's centrist Yediot Aharonot, Sever Plotzker was among the Israeli journalists striking an optimistic tone. Abbas, he wrote, was "on his way to becoming a Palestinian [equivalent to former Egyptian president Anwar] Sadat [who became the first Arab leader to sign a peace agreement with Israel in 1973] and out to surprise us all."

"Israel is at a juncture where three streams converge to form a mighty waterfall," Yoel Marcus argued in the June 5 edition of Ha'aretz. "The first is the U.S. president, who is demanding an agreement so he can continue his messianic fight against the forces of evil; the second is the elimination of the strategic threat we've been living under, now that Iraq has been beaten and Syria and Iran have been warned; and the third, of course, is Israel's failing economy in the wake of a war that has made us understand that 'land for peace' means 'land for money, investors, tourism, and a return to the good life.' "

The editorial from the same edition of Ha'aretz referred to the Aqaba summit as a "vision that we shouldn't underestimate" and stressed that Palestinian President Yasser Arafat was out of the picture. "But," they cautioned, "without a fundamental change in outlook on both sides, the road map is doomed to fail. Without that, the meeting in Aqaba will only go down as yet another public relations stunt rather than a new page in our relations."

Violence Erupts

As it turned out, Ha'aretz's caution was justified. According to counts published by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Palestine Red Crescent Society, and Tel Aviv's liberal Ha'aretz, 45 Palestinians and 26 Israelis were killed in a series of attacks and counterattacks between June 4 and June 15. It was one of the bloodiest weeks in a history of bloodshed. The Palestinian extremist group Hamas rejected pressure from Abbas to accept a cease-fire and vowed to target "every Israeli man, woman, and child." Sharon vowed to "wipe out" Hamas completely.

The week's events shifted the tone of the coverage in the Israeli press. Ofer Shelach, writing in Yediot Aharonot on June 9, reacted gloomily to U.S. calls to get the peace process back on track: "Yesterday, the American wise man, U.S. President George W. Bush, echoed Shimon Peres' remarks from a bygone era, calling on both sides to continue negotiating despite the killings. Tomorrow, maybe the day after, Bush's determination will come to an end, and he will once again leave us alone with our troubled souls. The noise that you hear is not the sound of an orchestra accompanying the ceremony [in Aqaba]. It's just a bunch of terrified people whistling in the dark."

In a June 8 commentary for Hatzofeh, under the headline "The Axis of Evil Versus the Axis of Stupidity," Yaron Ostrovsky chose stronger words: "The road map would place Israel on a one-way street with no exits-just like a child, who easily inserts his finger into the neck of a bottle but can't manage to pull it out.…Israel has placed itself in the same situation…with the childish belief that everything will 'turn out OK.'…What is going to happen, however, will be far from OK…. [Israel is] left with just a deal, and we are the merchandise."

Nir Baram, writing in Tel Aviv's centrist Ma'ariv on June 9, the day after Palestinian militants killed five Israeli soldiers at a Gaza checkpoint, agreed. The Aqaba summit, Baram argued, represented the victory of the Intifada. The editors of Hatzofeh likewise mourned the soldiers as "the first victims of Sharon's road map policy."

Assassinations and Retaliations

In contrast, Yediot Aharonot, in a June 8 editorial, urged the Israeli security forces "to show maximum military restraint Jerusalem Postin the coming period," so as not to undercut Abbas. "[The Palestinian prime minister] is a national Israeli interest, like peace," Yediot Aharonot's editors wrote. And when, on June 10, Israel attempted to assassinate senior Hamas leader Abdul-Aziz Rantisi, Yediot Aharonot's editors responded by calling the strike on Rantisi "an error of judgment, at best, and an attempt to wreck the first step in the 1,000-mile journey to peace, at worst."

The editors of Ha'aretz went even further in their June 11 editorial, claiming the assassination attempt "seriously damaged Israel's credibility, along with that of [Sharon]." Asher Levi, writing in Tel Aviv's centrist Ma'ariv the next day, asked, "Why, Arik [Sharon's nickname], Why?": "We wanted to support you, hoping for a real solution, but the assassination attempt killed that hope….You owe an explanation to the people, who, as you know, believe in a two-state solution and in evacuating a great number of settlements."

Hamas vowed revenge for the attack and promised a wave of deadly retaliation. On June 11, the group carried out a devastating suicide bombing on a Jerusalem bus at rush hour, killing 17 people, including the Arab bus driver, and injuring 100. The suicide bomber was disguised as a religious Jew. Israel retaliated on June 11: Its helicopter gun-ships struck three targets in Gaza that left seven people dead, among them two men the Israeli army identified as leading members of Hamas. The rhetoric on both sides culminated in a declaration of war. Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz instructed his security chiefs to escalate their operations against Palestinian terrorist groups, especially Hamas, "using every means at our disposal." Sharon promised to hound the terrorist group.

"Both sides exchange blows whenever they can," Amir Oren wrote the following day in Ha'aretz, asserting that Israel should have delayed the assassination attempt on Rantisi until another suicide bombing by Hamas had claimed more lives.

Yet few Israeli commentators seemed surprised at the continuing violence after the Aqaba summit. "The war with the Palestinians will only reach its end when both sides collapse," the editors of Yediot Aharonot predicted on June 9. "No one believed anything ended or began at the summit….No one is willing to listen anymore."

Commentators in the Israeli press despaired of the possibility of striking a peace agreement with Abbas, who they saw as having a shallow base of support within Palestinian government and society. Khaled Abu Toameh, writing in the Jerusalem Post on June 16, called Abbas "a punching bag for Palestinians from across the political spectrum," after the prime minister was strongly criticized by fellow Palestinians for his reconciliatory approach toward Israel, as reflected in his speech he held at Aqaba. Yediot Aharonot's editors, also writing on June 16, shared the feelings of many Israelis: "A cease-fire? Between whom? The Palestinian Authority does not exist. What do exist in Palestine are poverty, unemployment, hatred, and fanaticism. There is the man in the street consumed by hatred who has nothing to lose but his life, which, in any case, is worth nothing."

Politicians Must Deliver

Many Israeli commentators further expressed doubts about Abbas' ability to deliver what he has promised-security for Israel and the disarmament of Hamas. "A few months ago, Abbas was our big hope," lamented an editorial a June 15 editorial in Yediot Aharonot. "Finally there was someone whose word we could trust, who was looking for progress and prosperity for his people….We can kill [the Palestinians] and occupy their land, we can decide that we won't talk to them, except through missiles. But we cannot, however hard we push and try, decide who leads them."

Amid the tension, on June 16, the Knesset adopted Sharon's policy statement on the road map by 57 to 42 votes. But Sharon vowed to go on fighting terrorism, adding that the "war on terrorism aims to bring peace." Only after terrorism and incitement came to a halt would the government be willing to make "very painful concessions." His remarks prompted Yaron London, writing in the June 17 Yediot Aharonot, to call for "creative ideas" to break the deadlock between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. London argued that "the conditions are ripe" for ideas such as a U.S. mandate over Palestinian territory. The paper further argued that the foreign force's primary task would be to "set up a provisional government, which would prepare the Palestinian nation for independent government."

Israeli journalists from across the political spectrum saw the violence as proof that Abbas had little practical influence in the Palestinian territories. "Arafat is back," Danny Rubinstein declared in the June 16 edition of Ha'aretz. "Abbas' star is declining fast, and Arafat…has quickly reassumed control over the leadership." Yediot Aharonot's editors had expressed similar fears on June 10. "While Sharon and Abbas openly talk about the strategic choices in the diplomatic process," Yediot Aharonot's editors wrote, the fact remains that it is not the prime ministers who are determining the agenda, but the extremists….Abbas desperately needs a cease-fire with the Palestinian terrorist organizations." Hatzofeh's June 10 editorial put it with characteristic bluntness: "Abbas does not control the Palestinian Authority….If anybody doubts this, recent events have proved it yet again."

Uzi Benziman, writing for the June 16 edition of Ha'aretz, summarized the current situation thus: "Two weeks after the Aqaba summit, the road map, does not look to be leading anywhere. The hope that sprang from the summits in Sharm al-Sheikh and Aqaba has already dissipated into the violent routine that has colored life here for the past two and a half years."

Yisrael Harel, writing in Ha'aretz (July 18) under the headline "Saving Abu Mazen," believes, "The only chance the road map has of success, if at all, is if one key condition is fulfilled: The vast majority on both sides, Jews and Arabs, have to want it. Then it does not matter whether the prime ministers are weak.

"The majority of the Jewish people do want the road map. The vast majority of the Arab people living in the Land of Israel, however, have not at any stage reconciled themselves to Jewish sovereignty over even a small part of the land. They accept the map as just one stage in the 'plan of stages,' not as a peace agreement....For another unnecessary and extended period, there will continue to be victims among us—and we will be forced to continue to live by the sword."

 

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