It's not entirely clear just what Ariel Sharon had in mind when he said in a Rosh Hashana interview that the new Jewish year would see a "huge step forward" in the peace process. He also noted that “in the coming year huge progress will be made in the diplomatic process and implementation of the outline determined by the Road Map.”
However, the essence of the “giant leap and progress” remained undefined.
On the contrary, the article noted that Many diplomatic sources believe future Israeli moves will be careful and measured, and in general, the polity does not share Sharon's hope for a "huge step forward."
On the other hand, an editorial piece in Haaretz newspaper called on Sharon to cast the die for another "huge disengagement."
But it is also not clear if this is exactly what Sharon has in mind. After all, such a move would be a departure not only from the Road Map peace plan, but also from his promises that Israel will not undertake any more unilateral pullouts.
There is, however, another possibility. Without saying so openly, Sharon may intend on moving to the second stage of the Road Map by year's end, the stage in which a Palestinian state is established in temporary borders.
Sharon has de facto recognized such a state in the past, and de jure repeated that recognition last month in his speech at the United Nations.
Inside sources say the Americans would surely welcome further developments towards Bush's vision of an independent, sovereign Palestinian state.
But if such a state were created under the wrong circumstances, it is highly questionable whether such a turn of events could be considered a "huge step towards peace."
Without a final-status peace agreement, the Palestinians can be expected to use their state to conduct an all out diplomatic, and perhaps military, campaign against us.
By elevating the PA to the status of "state" we will strengthen its ability to fight us in the international arena while reducing our scope of military activity against it.
In order to agree to such a development, we must come away from the exercise with several tangible gains.
First, if the Road Map vision is the issue, it is an absolute must that the Palestinians fulfill all their security obligations under the first phase of that plan. .
We must demand they dismantle the terrorist infrastructure – mainly Hamas – and take concrete steps.
Strategies to accomplish this have already been laid out in an appendix to the 1997 Wye River Accord, in the Tennet and Zinni plans, and in the Road Map.
These demands must be met in their entirety, in both letter and spirit.
Should they fulfill those obligations, it will be possible to move on to the second stage of the Road Map, at which point Israel must act according to the following principles.
(1) Normalization. In return for agreeing to Palestinian statehood, Israel must receive full normalization from the entire Arab/Muslim world. In addition, Israel must become fully integrated at the United Nations, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the European Union and NATO.
(2) Diplomatic calm. It is not enough for the Palestinian state to assume security responsibility and to completely rein the armed groups operating in its territory. The Palestinians must also cease attempts to harm Israel politically. Attempts by the new state to isolate Israel internationally must be rejected.
(3) Demilitarization. The Palestinian state will be established from the outset as a non-military entity, and will not have the right to sign military treaties. This principle has already been presented to both the international community and the Palestinians in previous negotiations, and Israel must not back off from this demand.
(4) Most importantly: In the second stage of the Road Map Israel must capitalize on understandings reached with the president of the United States with regard to what the Palestinians call the "right" of 1948 refugees and their descendants to return to now-sovereign Israel. In keeping with the government decision to adopt the plan, the international community must be forced to accept Israel and the United States' position on this matter, and must convince the Palestinians to do the same.
If Israel jumps ahead to Stage II of the Road Map without ensuring the Palestinians fulfill their Stage I obligations and without ensuring they produce the necessary compensation for entering the second phase – and especially if these moves are also accompanied by more pullouts, unilateral or coordinated, that will leave Israel with no bargaining chips for the issues of Jerusalem and final, defensible borders.
In that case, it will be hard to see the move as a "huge step forward towards peace. To the contrary, it would constitute a very large stride in the opposite, for generations to come.