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February 12, 2007
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Senator Lincoln Chafee
President Bush’s Road Map to Middle East Peace:
A Promise Unfulfilled

Sen. Lincoln Chafee delivered a Stephen A. Ogden Jr ‘60 Memorial Lecture at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 12, 2007, in Sayles Hall on The College Green. The text of Chafee’s lecture follows here. (See also news release)

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Good afternoon. It is an honor indeed to be invited to deliver a lecture in the Stephen A. Ogden Jr. – Class of 1960 – memorial series, and to join the august array of public figures who have come before you over the years to offer their perspectives on international affairs. That I am an alumnus of this university, and that I am newly appointed to the Watson Institute faculty, only deepens my sense of gratitude for this honor.

My talk today concerns the unfulfilled promise of President Bush’s plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, which has come to be known as the Road Map. For the last several years as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East, I have been very focused on the Israeli-Palestinian question.

Before plunging into the subject at hand, two things need to be said up front.

First, the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, understandably, a highly emotional issue.

So I want to get it right out on the table, at the outset of my remarks, that I am unmovable on the point that the security of the state of Israel is paramount. Everything I have said and will say on the subject has as its ultimate aim the long-term security interests of our ally Israel. I also stand before you as one who is faithful to my generation, as one determined to give peace a chance. How can anyone argue that progress on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is not better than the status quo in terms of Israel’s long-term security?

Second, I want to call your attention to the fact that today is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. This is an auspicious day for me, because my parents, prizing as they did Lincoln’s honesty, named me for him.

So let’s turn to the Road Map.

Now, why focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when the situation in Iraq is so urgent? Isn’t it appropriate that the Road Map be on the back burner?

I would argue just the opposite. A firm U.S. commitment to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is a critical component of the U.S. effort to bring any semblance of peace and stability to Iraq. And President Bush said as much before the war even started.

In a speech before the American Enterprise Institute in February 2003, he said: “Success in Iraq could also begin a new stage for Middle Eastern peace, and set in motion progress toward a truly democratic Palestinian state.” ... “America will seize every opportunity in pursuit of peace. And the end of the present regime in Iraq would create such an opportunity.”

In May 2003, when our campaign in Iraq looked to be a grand success and “Mission Accomplished” was declared, I questioned Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz – the architect of “regime change” in Iraq – during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. I said that “it seems to me that we have thrown a rock in to the pool that is the Middle East, and just for the sake of my question, if all goes well with restoring order in Iraq, what is the strategic vision of the ripples that are now going out from this rock?”

Mr. Wolfowitz answered – and these were the first words out of his mouth: “I’d say several things. I think some of them hopefully will happen even perhaps before some of the other results are achieved inside of Iraq. I think one of the ripples is a positive impact on the Arab-Israeli peace process, and clearly we need it. We need to move that process forward.”

And Arab leaders for years have been calling for U.S. leadership as the only path to a successful laying of the cornerstone of Middle East peace. Listen to their voices:

Our staunch ally, Jordan’s King Abdullah: “People in the Middle East are very skeptical. The only way you’re going to make the right impression on the Arab street and throughout the region is to show there’s going to be some transparency and solve the Israeli-Palestinian situation.” Also, he said, “I can’t impress it enough on this audience that the core instability of the Middle East, the core problem in everybody’s hearts, is the Israeli-Palestinian problem. That is the recruiting ground for extremism and terrorism that we see in the Middle East.”

Egypt’s President Mubarak after meeting with President Bush said: “The United States has always assumed a leading role in the search for peace in our region. I expressed my strong desire to see that this leading role continue with ever greater vigor and determination to realize our vision of a two-state solution as early as possible in the context of a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. I stressed to the President the centrality of the conflict to the people in the region.”

Even Syria’s President Assad has asserted that U.S. leadership is essential to achieving what he calls, in what is a breakthrough for Syria, “a two-state solution”: “We in Syria believe that if the United States doesn’t have the vision and the will to make peace in the Middle East, everything else will lose its value and there is going to be no peace.”

What has U.S. policy indeed been?

On June 24, 2002, President Bush gave an historic, even radical, speech, in which he outlined his vision for a permanent, two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in beautiful and inspiring language. No president had ever gone so far in his rhetoric. Each preceding president had done serious work to bring the parties to the negotiating table – President Carter winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, and President Clinton achieving a handshake between Prime Minister Rabin and Palestinian leader Arafat on the White House lawn. But President Bush was boldly charting brand new territory for an American leader.

This speech was followed in April 2003 by a detailed, performance-based plan with concrete steps and a timeline – what came to be known as the Road Map. This was a stunning document, which set forth exactly what was required of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to achieve peace. It defined the “two-state solution” as “an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel.” The peace settlement would be based on the principle of “land for peace,” meaning that Israel would withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza, territories occupied since the1967 war.

These would be very difficult steps to take indeed, but they were clear, as was the ultimate gain from taking them.

I am deeply distressed to observe that, in the almost five years since, it seems that President Bush has become the only U.S. President in more than three decades to have removed himself from the peace process. To be sure, he has made a number of public statements over the years, in which he has said all the right things. Wonderful things, which I have strongly supported. As has most of the world. And yet, these statements have lacked teeth. Nothing has happened.

There have been two critical junctures during the past five years when conditions were particularly ripe for true progress toward an Arab-Israeli peace settlement.

The first opportunity presented itself in the summer of 2003, a year after the president’s visionary “two-state” speech, and right after “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq.

Trying to build on the momentum created by Iraqi optimism and the existence of a strong U.S. blueprint for peace, on June 4, 2003, King Abdullah invited Prime Ministers Sharon and Abbas and President Bush to the breathtaking Jordanian seaside resort city of Aqaba. You might recognize Aqaba as the target of T.E. Lawrence’s famous raid on Ottoman forces in 1917, as immortalized in the film “Lawrence of Arabia.”

King Abdullah exhorted Sharon and Abbas to view any compromise they were to make not as “painful concessions,” but as “peace offerings.”

Prime Minister Sharon articulated Israel’s commitment to a democratic Palestinian state, living side-by-side with Israel in peace, and to taking concrete steps to dismantle Israeli settlements, and otherwise improve the humanitarian situation in the occupied territories, and restore trust.

Prime Minister Abbas made a statement every bit as radical as President Bush’s. For the first time, a Palestinian leader announced to the Israelis and to the world, “Let me be very clear: There will be no military solution to this conflict, so we repeat our renunciation, a renunciation of terror against the Israelis wherever they might be... Our goal is clear and we will implement it firmly and without compromise: a complete end to violence and terrorism.”

For his part, President Bush announced that he was making the Road Map the priority of Secretary of State Powell, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and appointing a Special Envoy, Ambassador John Wolf.

Weeks passed. The momentum that had been building was being lost. Finally, Prime Minister Abbas traveled to the United States in July 2003 to plead with President Bush, to tell him how he would not be able to control Palestinian anger for much longer unless he could point to visible progress on the Road Map. We members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had what we call a “working coffee” with Mr. Abbas during that trip, and he laid out the three issues on which he had asked for the President’s help.

First, there was the question of the Palestinian prisoners being held without charges by Israel; second was the ongoing construction of new settlements; the third was the route of the security barrier under construction by Israel, which he asserted was separating the farmers from their fields. These were all points to be dealt with as part of the Road Map.

President Bush issued a statement acknowledging Mr. Abbas’ concerns and stating that “We will continue to address these issues. We will address them carefully and seriously with Palestinian and Israeli officials. We will work to seek solutions.” But the U.S. did not provide the leadership so badly needed at that critical moment.

Then, on August 19, there was a horrible suicide bomb on a bus in Jerusalem that killed twenty people. The Israelis, understandably, clamped down, and the opportunity to make progress on the Road Map was gone.

I traveled to the Middle East shortly after the tragic attack. I toured the West Bank, and met with a number of Israeli and Palestinian officials, who had all looked to the U.S. for leadership. I also had a meeting with Ambassador Wolf, in his room in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, and I asked him, “What happened?” He merely shrugged. Had he not received any instructions from the Bush Administration during that critical summer?

Indeed, he told reporters that “the administration failed to demand publicly that Israel and the Palestinians live up to their commitments as laid out in the plan known as the ‘road map’ to establish a Palestinian state.”

It was dispiriting for all the parties to see this promising opportunity simply squandered.

Mahmoud Abbas resigned in despair as prime minister of the Palestinian Authority in September.

In my estimation it is not entirely a coincidence that there was an intense escalation of the insurgency in Iraq in the fall of 2003.

As a result of the abject frustration over this missed opportunity, there was a loss of faith in the promise of the Road Map, and pressure began to build, not only within the seething Occupied Territories, but also within Israel and in the United States.

A number of Israelis and Palestinians – government officials, military officers, activists and businesspeople – had been meeting (hundreds of times over two years), outside of government, to devise their vision of a final status peace agreement. They released their initiative, called the Geneva Accord, in October 2003. It was a sign of the times that neither Prime Minister Sharon nor President Bush agreed to meet with the group.

I attended a remarkable meeting at the National Press Club in Washington in December 2003, at which Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders launched the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative. Reverend Mark Hanson, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, summed up the sentiments of those gathered thus:

“We believe peace in the Middle East is key to reducing tensions throughout the world... The perilous lack of progress on the Road Map leaves us rightfully impatient. Doubts about the seriousness of the United States’ commitment to the Road Map must be replaced by the evidence of strong leadership that we witnessed from President Bush and his administration last spring.” All of us present shared those “Doubts about the seriousness of the United States’ commitment to the Road Map” that Reverend Hanson so aptly articulated.

In Israel internal pressure for action was intense. The government responded by taking unilateral action, by withdrawing from Gaza in late 2003 and 2004. Perhaps you remember the images of the Israeli settlers being forcibly removed from their homes by Israeli soldiers. On the face of it, this looked possibly like a first step to a return to the 1967 borders, as called for in the Road Map. But taking place outside the Road Map, it was far more complicated than that.

In 2004 after a meeting with Mr. Sharon, President Bush announced his support for the disengagement plan, and in an April 14 letter, acknowledged that some settlements in the West Bank would stay – even though they are inconsistent with a “contiguous Palestinian state.” I was stunned. It seemed that the Road Map was being abandoned.

I questioned Mr. Wolfowitz again in a hearing in 2004. I keep returning to him because, frankly, he was the one member of the Bush Administration that I felt I could trust to be straight with me. I respected him for his candor. This time I asked him, “Why the paralysis?” My fellow committee members would groan good naturedly because I would not let the matter drop until I got an answer. But this time, Mr. Wolfowitz disappointed me. He didn’t have a good answer.

I was left to wonder, as I still do, what could explain the United States’ utter failure of leadership on the Road Map – which was disappointing at best, and catastrophic at worst.

In the back of my mind I lingered on a statement that Senator James Inhofe made on the Senate floor December 2001, shortly after the September 11th attacks. He spoke for forty minutes, and I continue to be struck by the intense religious fervor evident in his remarks. Of the war against terror, he said this: “Make no mistake about it. This war is first and foremost a spiritual war.”

But toward the end of his speech he took on the Arab-Israeli conflict and the concept of land for peace: “I believe very strongly that we ought to support Israel; that it has a right to the land. That is the most important reason: Because God said so. ... In Genesis, the Bible says:

“The Lord said to Abram, ‘Lift up now your eyes, and look from the place where you are northward, and southward, and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, to you will I give it, and to your seed forever...Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it to thee.’”

Said Senator Inhofe, “This is God talking.” The problem is that this biblically promised land does not include the West Bank.

There has been a great deal of analysis of the influence of evangelical Christians on U.S. foreign policy.

According to Nancy E. Roman, vice president of the Council on Foreign Relations, “the Southern Baptist Convention and other organized groups of evangelicals have decided that really it’s important to engage politically and certainly in the foreign policy realm... By sheer dint of the numbers, I think the evangelicals are having more of a measurable impact right now.”

But like every religious group in America, evangelicals are by no means monolithic, as we heard from Reverend Hanson earlier. In a June 18, 2003, op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, Dallas Seminary professor Darrell Bock, noted that believing that God gave the land to Israel does not preclude Israel from negotiating parts of its land in exchange for peace.

President Bush has embraced the concept of land for peace in word, but so far not in deed. I sometimes wonder which group has the president’s ear.

I have wondered something else about this president, who promised us he would be a uniter and not a divider, who led us into Iraq to vanquish the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction. Has this been a deliberate deception?

In the fall of 2004, I ran across an extremely disturbing, as well as revealing, interview in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz with Dov Weisglass, Prime Minister Sharon’s most senior advisor. It stopped me in my tracks. He was asked about Israel’s unilateral plan for disengagement from Gaza. He said, “The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process. ... And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. ... The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.” Mr. Weisglass went so far as to say that in a private meeting, “what I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns. That is the significance of what we did.”

Mr. Weisglass also made it very clear, Israel was under intense domestic pressure to act: he said “In the fall of 2003 we understood that everything was stuck...Time was not on our side. There was international erosion, internal erosion. Domestically, in the meantime, everything was collapsing, and the Geneva Initiative had gained broad support.”

Is Mr. Weisglass saying that the good people of the Geneva Initiative who worked hard for progress toward peace are adversaries and the rhetoric about a Palestinian state is a diversion from a different agenda?

Despite the discouraging train of events in 2003 and 2004, despite the Palestinian violence and Israeli intransigence and U.S. inaction, another chance for peace was on the horizon. A second opening presented itself in the spring of 2005, after death of Yasser Arafat. Mahmoud Abbas, the moderate who wanted to live peacefully, side by side with Israel, was elected president of the Palestinian Authority, with a strong mandate in a high-turnout election.

President Bush said at this time: “Israel must freeze settlement activity, help Palestinians build a thriving economy, and ensure that a new Palestinian state is truly viable, with contiguous territory on the West Bank. A state of scattered territories will not work.”

But within five months President Abbas was back at the White House, as he had been before, beseeching President Bush for some help in quelling the unrest that was fomenting in the territories, so that he could shore up moderate political support. Again, the President made a strong statement – calling for an end to settlement construction in the West Bank. We should have been doing everything possible to bolster this moderate leader, this strong voice for non-violence who is a true partner for peace. The evidence is clear that there was no intensive diplomatic effort to back it up. Again, a precious opportunity was squandered.

Palestinian elections were held shortly thereafter, in January 2006. Hamas – a violent organization with a genocidal charter – won a majority of seats in the 132-seat Palestinan Legislative Council. This was Mr. Abbas’ fear. Now we have a dreadful, no-win situation on our hands. How can negotiations on the path to peace happen unless and until Hamas changes its charter to renounce its mission to eradicate Israel? Or what if we were to negotiate, and Hamas actually were to deliver results? Then we will have empowered them, an absolutely untenable outcome.

Where are we now? The 2006 U.S. mid-term elections were a clear expression of the electorate’s wrath against the President and the war in Iraq.

The attention of the U.S. Congress and the American people is now focused on opposition to the President’s plan to add as many as 20,000 additional troops to Iraq and a growing drumbeat for a withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq. And it is true that we are at an all-or-nothing point in Iraq.

As you know, last year Congress supported the creation of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group to assess the deteriorating situation in Iraq and make recommendations for improving the outcome there. The committee was chaired by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, and included Lawrence Eagleburger, Vernon Jordan, Ed Meese, Sandra Day O’Connor, Leon Panetta, William Perry, Charles Robb, and Alan Simpson – some of the most sober and thoughtful participants in American public life. These are people we can trust. Here is what they had to say:

“The situation in Iraq is deteriorating ... The United States will not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East unless the United States deal directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict. There must be a renewed and sustained commitment by the United States to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts: Lebanon, Syria, and President Bush’s June 2002 commitment to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. ... The United States does its ally Israel no favors in avoiding direct involvement to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Let me make a few comments about Iraq before I conclude. And please remember, I opposed this war from the beginning. It is the wrong war being fought for the wrong reasons. So I am skeptical about the need for more troops, but I also fear that a precipitous U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would threaten our allies in the region, most especially Israel.

I believe that there is still a glimmer of hope – albeit a small one – that there will be a stable, even peaceful Iraq. It is a goal for which we all dearly hope. But I submit to you that whether we do or do not send an additional 20,000 troops to Baghdad is not nearly as critical to our success in Iraq as is U.S. leadership on the Road Map. That is the crucial missing ingredient.

We are seeing some progress now, at least superficially: The Administration is turning its attention once again – and I hope with a sense of grave purpose and commitment – to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

The February 2nd Washington meeting of the so-called Quartet of the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union, resulted in a broad endorsement of the renewed U.S. push for three-way talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders led by Secretary of State Rice, and an affirmation of “the primacy of the Road Map.”

The Saudis are suddenly emerging as a key player in the Arab-Israeli peace process. Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz said back in the 2003 Senate hearing that “one of the things that was missing in the Camp David and Taba negotiations in 2000 and early 2001 was that the Saudis and the Egyptians didn’t step up to the plate.” Now we see that happening, as the Saudis are deeply alarmed by the show of Iranian muscle in Iraq, Lebanon, and the West Bank and Gaza. The Saudis sponsored meetings between Fatah and Hamas last week in Mecca which could be the start of something positive.

There is no time to waste. As President Abbas said after his election, “Time is the enemy of peace in the Middle East.” Jordan’s King Abdullah said two years ago, “My father used to say that he wants peace for his children and our children’s children. He was talking about us. Do I how have to start saying I want peace for my children and our children’s children? The Middle East cannot wait that long.”

I have given you the evidence that President Bush’s lofty rhetoric has been hollow. We missed crucial opportunities in the summer of 2003 and the spring of 2005. Did Dov Weisglass’ interview with Haaretz provide a revealing window into the truth? At hand is our third and possibly last chance for U.S. word to meet with deed. The American people should not tolerate any more mendacity on this critical matter – which is profoundly important to our ability to make progress in Iraq. Every voice that has clamored for a victory in Iraq, or that has spoken up against this war from the beginning, or that calls for it to end now, should rise up in unison in a clarion call for U.S. leadership on the central issue of Israeli-Palestinian peace.

During my three visits to Israel, I was overcome with the powerful sense of history. In the book of Isaiah it says:

“Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
The calf and the young lion shall browse together.”

I stood at the top of Mt. Nebo, where Moses was given his first glimpse of the promised land, and as I gazed down at the River Jordan and the town of Jericho and off into the distance at Jerusalem, the haunting spiritual played in my head:

“There will be peace in the valley for me, some day
There will be peace in the valley for me, oh Lord I pray.”