Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Sunday, December 22, 2002

Mideast Quartet Fails to Unveil 'Road Map' Plan

Due to strong opposition from Washington, the Middle East Quartet -- the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union -- on Friday failed to unveil a much-awaited "road map" to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Due to strong opposition from Washington, the Middle East Quartet -- the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union -- on Friday failed to unveil a much-awaited "road map" to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

After a one-day high-level meeting originally scheduled to endorse the peace plan, the Quartet simply issued a statement to reaffirm its commitment to the Middle East peace process, calling for an immediate and comprehensive cease-fire between Israelis and the Palestinians.

The "road map," being discussed by the Quartet members for months, envisions detailed steps to achieve the goals set forth byUS President George W. Bush in his Middle East peace plan proposed in June, which calls for the establishment of a provisional Palestinian state by 2003 and a permanent one by 2005.

Although the international community, especially the European Union (EU) and Arab nations, had hoped for its early release and implementation, the Quartet ministerial meeting in Washington has decided to reconsider the "road map" until after Israel's general elections scheduled for Jan. 28.

Publicly, the Quartet explained that the plan is not ready yet and needs some improvement in its monitoring mechanism. The reason behind, analysts say, is the strong objection from the United States.

When President Bush announced his Middle East peace plan in June, he did not expect its immediate implementation, according to US media.

The strategy was, by proposing a peace plan attached with tough conditions, that the Bush administration could effectively shelve the thorny Israeli-Palestinian conflict at least after the Mid-term elections in November so as to avoid potential political damage to President Bush and his party.

After a historic victory in the Nov. 5 voting, however, the administration found little interest in taking up the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because of its obsession with the Iraq issue.

According to US officials, the Bush administration has decided to set the last week of January as a make-or-break point in its long standoff with Baghdad.

Meanwhile, the US military has been given preliminary approval for deploying another 50,000 forces in the Gulf region in early January, a move which could double US military presence in the region and make US forces there ready for military operations against Iraq.

The White House also announced Friday that Bush has canceled a scheduled trip to Africa in January "due to a combination of domestic and international considerations."

Under such circumstances, it is no surprise that Washington has shown little enthusiasm to shift its focus from Iraq to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel's strong request that the US should go slow on the "roadmap" is another major factor leading to the Quartet's failure to endorse the peace plan at the Washington meeting.

The Israeli government headed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has insisted that the plan not be considered until after the Israeli elections because the Israelis should go to ballot without interventions by "outside factors," an argument accepted and supported by Washington.

This may be partially true, analysts say. But the more important reason could be that the Sharon government is yet ready to embrace the "road map" in its entirety.

In order to move the peace process forward, the "road map" reportedly demands that Israel halt all Jewish settlement in parallel to the Palestinians effort to stop violence against Israelis.

The settlement issue has been a major obstacle for the resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. Prime Minister Sharon is a well-known staunch advocate for Jewish settlement and has so far given no indication that he is prepared to compromise on the issue.

Expressing the EU's frustration over the US opposition to adopting the "road map" plan, EU Foreign and Security Policy ChiefJavier Solona complained to reporters in Washington on Wednesday that "the road map is very clear but we have not been able to move the train out of the station a single inch."

Despite of the complaints, the Quartet works on the mechanism of building consensus, which means that persistent opposition from any party to a proposal will eventually prevail, as in the case of the "road map" plan.

Analysts believe that the United States has no reason to oppose the "road map" in content because, as President Bush pointed out at his meeting with Quartet envoys on Friday, the so-called "road map" is a part of his vision.

The bottom line is that the United States may want to implement Bush's Middle East peace plan on the basis of a "road map," either of its own or of the Quartet, at a time of its own chosen.

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