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Between The Lines: Flawed Mideast Peace Plan

From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release June 6, 2003

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Middle East Roadmap for Peace May Lead to a Dead End

Interview with Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun Magazine, conducted by Scott Harris

Listen in RealAudio:

Although the latest plan for peace in the Middle East, known as "the Road Map," was drawn up and awaiting action for many months, the proposal wasn't given serious attention until just days before the U.S. launched its war against Iraq. Now, after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime, the "road map" is moving forward with an endorsement from the new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and half-hearted acceptance from the Israeli government of Ariel Sharon.

The plan, put forward by the U.S., the European Union, the U.N. and Russia, envisions the cessation of hostilities leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state within 3 years. But critics of the blueprint for peace worry about opposition to the plan from hardliners on both sides and that many of the most difficult negotiations will not begin until the final and third phase of the plan. Contentious issues such as the dismantling of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their former homes are formidable obstacles which could derail the plan.

Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine, has for many years been working for a just solution to decades of Middle East violence. He co-founded a new organization called the Tikkun Community with co-chair Harvard professor Cornel West which serves as a progressive alternative to conservative Jewish lobby groups that generally back Israel's aggressive policies. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Rabbi Lerner about how he views the prospects for success of this latest Middle East peace plan.

Rabbi Michael Lerner: Although I'm glad that there have been some steps forward on the road map, the road map is so deeply flawed that it seems extremely unlikely to lead anywhere positive because -- let me tell you the two reasons why it's significantly flawed. Number one, the road map says that both sides must take a certain number of steps that will take place over the course of the next three years, and at the end of those three years there will be a negotiation about what the final settlement will be. But those steps, from the standpoint of the Palestinians, is going to require that Palestinian moderates are able to silence and stop all acts of violence from the Palestinian extremists. Now of course, I wish that could happen because I would very much like to see an end to all acts of violence against Israeli civilians on the part of the Palestinians.

On the other hand, I don't think there's a chance that they will stop unless the moderates in the Palestinian world have something concrete to offer the extremists in the Palestinian world. And what the road map offers is that if the moderates are able to silence and stop the extremists over the course of the next three years, then… what? Then, we will have a negotiation. But the negotiation will take place between two parties, one of whom is occupying the West Bank and Gaza, and the other who has no Army and no significant military force. So, they are extremely unequal powers that will then negotiate. Well, when you try to present this as the justification for stopping the acts of violence -- which as I say I think are totally destructive to the Palestinian cause in any event, but that's not the basis of the argument that's being made, the basis of the argument is, "You see we'll end up with something. We'll end up with this great consequence at the end of the process." But there is no end of the process. The end of the process will be a new negotiation and they have been through that route before.

Now, problem number two with the road map is that it totally empowers the most extremist elements and disempowers the moderate elements in the Palestinian world for the following reasons: the moderates can take 3,000 steps along the roads to Middle East peace that this road map supposedly lays out, and if there is just a few acts of violence on the part of a handful of violent people on either side, the whole thing collapses. So, for these two reasons, this plan is very deeply flawed.

Between The Lines: The U.S. media has focused a lot of positive attention on the fact that Ariel Sharon's government is the first government of the nation of Israel, that has basically endorsed the idea of the creation of a Palestinian state. But, as you said, there's a lot of cause for being skeptical that this actually will come to pass given Ariel Sharon's record and…

Rabbi Michael Lerner: Yes, he says that he would accept a Palestinian state. Now, understand this, that what he has in mind is a state that would be less than 10 percent of pre-1948 Palestine and he has made it clear to all of his supporters that he has no intention of dismantling any of the major settlements, that he has no intention of sending back into Israel any of the 320,000 Israeli settlers. All that he is willing to do is to take a few of these extremely marginal settlements that were just set up in the last two years, he has decided to label the "illegal settlements" to contrast them with the rest, although by international law, all of the settlements are illegal. So he's talking about a Palestinian state that will be a sliver, that will have no economic or political viability, that will be surrounded by Israeli troops. That will essentially have no reality.

The minimum that the Palestinians need and I think it's the maximum they can get and should get at this moment, is the West Bank and Gaza. A state through most of the West Bank and Gaza would be something that would satisfy their needs and I think should satisfy their needs. So he's ending up giving them next to nothing and calling that a Palestinian state.

Between The Lines: Rabbi Lerner, how inextricably linked do you feel Middle East peace is to solving and ending the threat and the very real promise of more terrorism in the world today?

Rabbi Michael Lerner: Well I think it’s very important, but I don't hold the view that this is the magic bullet and that once we solve the Israeli-Palestinian issue that the threat of terror will disappear. I think it's really a question of a new spirit and a new way of approaching politics. What we basically say is that there are two paradigms that have been contending in American history and actually in world history, one between those that think that security can be achieved through domination and control over others and the other that says that security can be achieved through cooperation with each other. And we're very much arguing that the real way to peace, the real way to security for the United States is a way that involves not beating every other country in the world militarily, but working out a common interest with the peoples of the world. So we're calling for a global Marshall plan to redistribute the wealth of the world in such a way as to eliminate poverty, h omelessness, hunger, to rectify inequalities in education and health care and to really take seriously the well-being of the people on the planet.

Tikkun is sponsoring a four-day event, "Tikkun Teach-in To Congress" in Washington, D.C. June 1-4. Contact Tikkun at (510) 644-1200 or visit their Web site at

Visit our website at for related links including: "The State Sharon is Talking About" and "Violence and the Road Map"


Scott Harris is the executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, nationally syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines (, for the week ending June 6, 2003.

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