The recent push given by President George W. Bush to the so-called Middle East "road map" is welcome, and the fact that both Israel and the Palestinians have accepted it is a good omen. Yet the chances that it will bring real, as opposed to merely rhetorical, progress toward reconciliation remain slim.
The reasons are manifold: first, what is called a "road map" is in reality little more than a wish list of what has to be done in order to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians. It is a noble set of goals, but it sometimes appears to be distant from the region's political realities.
For example, the road map rightly acknowledges that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be solved in a void; regional considerations must be taken into account. The plan calls for far-reaching Israeli concessions: withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, dismantling of settlements, some compromise about Jerusalem.
At the same time, the "quartet" that composed the road map--the US, the EU, Russia, and the UN--realizes that Israel cannot be convinced to make such concessions without a fundamental change in the general attitude of the Arab world to the existence of the Jewish state. Despite peace with Egypt and Jordan, Israel remains threatened by such countries as Syria and Libya, whose extremist regimes are deeply involved in violent terrorism against civilians in Israel and either possess or try to possess weapons of mass destruction.