Next week Secretary of State Rice will travel again to the Middle East — her eighth trip since last October, when she announced her "personal commitment" to the goal of a Palestinian state since there "could be no greater legacy for America."
The announcement of Ms. Rice's trip states that it is part of her ongoing efforts to produce "serious negotiations" on the establishment of a Palestinian state "as soon as possible," with a "substantive and serious" November peace conference addressing the "core issues."
Over the last year, Ms. Rice has transformed U.S. policy from (a) support for a Palestinian state conditioned on compliance with Phase I and II of the Roadmap, to (b) support for Phase III final status negotiations to establish a Palestinian state "as soon as possible," even though the Palestinians have not complied with either Phase I or II.
Under the Roadmap, final status negotiations were to occur only after a sustained and effective effort by the Palestinian Authority to dismantle terrorist capabilities and infrastructure, Phase I, and then only after the establishment of a Palestinian state with provisional borders and limited sovereignty, Phase II. With respect to Phase I, the PA has yet to dismantle a single terrorist organization, or arrest a terrorist leader, in the four years since the Palestinians accepted the Roadmap. In the same period, Israel dismantled 25 settlements, withdrew from Gaza, and released hundreds of prisoners. In 2006, the Palestinians elected their premier terrorist organization to control their legislature. In 2007, half the putative Palestinian state was taken over in a coup.
With respect to Phase II, in January Mahmoud Abbas rejected a provisional state, and Ms. Rice then suggested that Phase II might be skipped, since it could be easier "just to go to the end game."
Thus despite the PA's inability to execute Phase I and its unwillingness to consider Phase II, the Bush administration is now devoting maximum effort to negotiate a Palestinian state "as soon as possible."
The abandonment of the sequential requirements of the Roadmap has been accompanied by extraordinarily disingenuous euphemisms. The Roadmap has not been disregarded; it has been "accelerated." The "final status issues" are now "core issues," but there is no difference between the two terms. The upcoming peace conference is a "meeting" rather than a Phase III "conference."
Both Tony Snow and Condoleezza Rice have had trouble keeping the concepts straight. The day after President Bush's speech announcing the international "meeting," Mr. Snow told reporters that "even though I know I used the term ‘conference' this morning, this is a meeting. … [A] lot of people are inclined to try to treat this as a big peace conference. It's not. This is a meeting … "
Ms. Rice, on the way back from the Middle East in August, had this exchange with reporters, in which the word "conference" kept popping up like Strangelove's right arm:
Secretary Rice: … Everybody wants this to be a meaningful, substantive conference … I don't think there's a real difference about what we'd like to see this meeting be.
Secretary Rice: It's a meeting, but, you know, it's a vstretch.
Secretary Rice: Vstretch. You know, vstretch is a meeting. Nyet konferencia.
Question: I covered the run-up to Madrid, and as I recall there were formal invitations … Do you plan to follow that model?
Secretary Rice: Well, I think we have to go back and think about the best approach now to inviting people to come to the conference. See, there I just did it again. To the meeting. (Laughter.) I maybe should speak in Russian.
Since 2000, the Palestinians rejected a state at Camp David, rejected it again in 2001 in the form of the Clinton Parameters, accepted the Roadmap in 2003 but failed to carry out Phase I, received all of Gaza in 2005 and promptly used it to send rockets into Israel and smuggle in massive new weaponry. Exactly how many opportunities do they get to miss?
The current argument is that after a Palestinian state is negotiated, its "implementation" will require dismantlement of the Palestinian terror structure. So Phase I will supposedly come after Phase III.
But it is more likely that, once a state is negotiated, the Palestinians will claim they cannot dismantle terrorist groups until they actually have a state. Once they have a state, they will "dismantle" terrorist groups by integrating them into the army. Once they integrate them into the army, the terrorists will either be elected or stage a coup. It's happened before.
The pass being given the Palestinians on Phase I and II is particularly inappropriate given the formal promise to Israel, set forth in Mr. Bush's April 14, 2004 letter, that America would prevent "any attempt by anyone to impose any other plan" than the Roadmap.
Ariel Sharon made that reassurance an integral part of his disengagement plan. He would undoubtedly be surprised, in light of what happened thereafter, to learn of the secretary of state's "personal commitment" to rush to Phase III.
Mr. Richman edits the blog Jewish Current Issues.