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Biweekly Column
Brookline TAB
Brookline, Massachusetts

Road Maps and Road Blocks

Dennis Fox

July 10, 2003

There's a flaw in the much-touted road map to peace between Israelis and Palestinians: the absence of an agreed-upon destination means the parties may never get to the nitty gritty. This common negotiating technique -- making both parties feel invested in minor agreements so that they'll compromise on bigger controversies -- has had minimal success in past Middle East bargaining

.The US-dominated plan sidesteps the final status of Israeli settlements in Gaza and the West Bank; the consequent fragmenting of Palestinian territory into unsustainable cantons; the rights of Palestinian refugees; and Jerusalem's centrality to both nations. Negotiators, opponents, and lukewarm supporters alike can endlessly deliberate, delay, and derail.

In places like Brookline with large Jewish communities, many will point out that small Palestinian factions unwilling to accept the three-month truce, even for show, persist in armed opposition. More troubling in the long run, Hamas and other groups agreeing to stop fighting for now have not yet abandoned their intention to transform Israel into an Islamic state. These are serious barriers to any workable agreement.

Yet at least as many barriers exist on the Israeli side. Even as Ariel Sharon dismantles a few isolated, mostly uninhabited "outposts," settlers follow Sharon's own precedent of building unauthorized new ones; the prime minister himself promises those living in more established settlements they will remain forever. Construction continues on the massive wall dividing West Bank communities from one another as well as from jobs in Israel. Also continuing is the occupation, breeding the resentment that builds opposition to any compromise.

Obstructionists were buoyed two weeks ago when five hundred rabbis formally declared that no Israeli government can remove any settlements or "abandon parts of the land of Israel to foreigners." Demonstrating that fundamentalist rigidity exists on both sides, the rabbis announced the road map is "in total opposition to the way of the Torah" and called for opposition to its implementation.

Although pessimism, thus, is realistic, useful work remains possible a step or two removed from the bargaining table. One example is local: Brookline-based Visions of Peace with Justice in Israel/Palestine (to which I belong) is spearheading the Jewish-American Medical Project, which last month sent a preliminary delegation to the West Bank. Working with Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees, JAMP members who have now worked in West Bank clinics are disseminating their impressions.

JAMP's most immediate is two-fold: recruiting health care workers and others to fund and join the next two-week delegation, planned for the fall, and coordinating with PHR-Israel and UPMRC hosts to ensure a productive visit.

But JAMP faces a more difficult challenge: making Americans pay attention to an ugly reality. Many American Jews, parroting mainstream organizations that follow the official Israeli line, either ignore, or dismiss as not Israel's fault, the consequences of Israeli rule: large numbers of civilian casualties, worsening malnutrition and poverty (now 70 per cent), inadequate health care, and routine violations of human rights. Even clean water is often scarce.

JAMP's evidence is, or should be, hard to shrug aside. For example, in addition to two dozen clinics, UPMRC brings mobile clinics to towns where Israeli roadblocks and checkpoints deny patients access to treatment. Roadblocks open and close without apparent rationale, forcing residents to walk from one barrier to the next if they are allowed to pass at all. Dozens of women denied passage have given birth at checkpoints without medical assistance; babies have died. Israeli soldiers have arrested medical workers who violate curfew to treat patients, fired upon ambulances, and destroyed clinics, computers, laboratories, and medical records.

On the positive side, JAMP recounts Palestinian efforts to sustain life and prepare for a better future. UPMRC provides rehabilitation programs for the disabled, first aid training, summer camps, and youth centers that teach computer skills, folk dance, and sports as well as skills for democracy. Yet the odds are bleak. Much of the population -- especially children -- remains traumatized.

I don't know how successfully JAMP will meet Palestinian needs or raise American awareness. We can hope, though, that personal contacts made in busy clinics and at dusty roadblocks will help generate productive interaction even if the formal road map ultimately fails.

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Note: this version may differ from the published version.

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