A fragile Israeli-Palestinian truce, a limited pullback of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip, and Israel’s release of a handful of Palestinian prisoners have combined to lend an appearance of momentum to the U.S.-led “road map” to peace in the Middle East.

But is the road map a path to a peaceful and just solution to the 55-year-old conflict? Not necessarily.

The road map, co-sponsored in name by the U.S., the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia, is very much the handiwork of the U.S. government. George W. Bush is its primary champion.

The plan has many defects, starting with its basic lack of even-handedness. The road map demands that the Palestinian Authority put an end to all resistance to the Israeli occupation, while requiring only token pullbacks on the Israeli side. It designates Israel as the ultimate judge of Palestinian behavior.

It’s important to recognize that the road map has emerged in the context of the U.S. military conquest and occupation of Iraq.

Strategically speaking, the U.S. military’s conquest of Iraq has been a major setback to the Arab world. It is part of U.S. imperialism’s drive to completely dominate the Middle East at the expense of the Arab peoples and its European and Japanese rivals. The region is much coveted for its oil, strategic position, cheap labor, and consumer market potential. Israel, heavily subsidized by the U.S. government to the tune of $8 billion per year, is a junior partner in this drive.

Now that Iraq has been vanquished (or has it?), the Bush administration is turning its attention to other obstacles to its undivided sway in the region – Iran, Syria, and … the Palestinian people.

The Palestinians have long been a thorn in the side of U.S. imperialism and Israeli expansionists. Despite decades of brutal and relentless U.S.-funded Israeli repression – systematic assassination and imprisonment of Palestinian leaders; house demolitions; border closings; destruction of Palestinian orchards, factories, villages and cities; economic strangulation – and the unceasing expansion of Israeli settlements, Palestinians have continued to fight for their legitimate national rights.

The sheer tenacity of the Palestinians in their fight for survival and self-determination has inspired worldwide admiration. Their national rights have been repeatedly recognized in United Nations resolutions and in the eyes of international law.

In 2003, however, the Palestinians find themselves in a severely weakened state, not unlike their plight 12 years ago after the collapse of the USSR and the first Persian Gulf war. At that time the U.S. and Israel pushed the Oslo Accords, hoping to do an end-run around the UN. Negotiations continued for years and finally collapsed.

On the eve of Oslo in 1991, Israeli leader Yitzhak Shamir told a reporter that he hoped to drag out negotiations for ten years. “In the meantime,” he said, “we would have settled half a million souls in Judea and Samaria [the occupied territories].” As a matter of fact, Israeli settlements have more than doubled since then.

The same kind of thinking governs U.S. and Israeli policy today. Under the guise of pushing the road map “peace plan,” they hope to break the back of the Palestinian resistance and allow Israeli settlements and U.S. economic power to expand.

Besides insisting on the appointment of a more compliant Palestinian leadership, Bush has demanded that the Palestinian Authority “crack down” against any and all resistance to the Israeli war machine – not only the reprehensible terrorist attacks on innocent civilians (so emphatically and correctly condemned by the Palestinian left as harmful to the cause), but virtually any opposition to Israel’s illegal occupation. Bush thereby hopes to foment disunity, if not civil war, among the Palestinian population, a prospect the Israeli rulers relish.

The road map resurrects many of the worst features of Oslo, including the creation of bantustan-like Palestinian cantons with full Israeli control over their roads, borders, airspace, airwaves, and water. As a sop it gives Palestinians token trappings of autonomy, but no real independent statehood.

The plan makes no commitment to free the more than 6,500 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons and jails, and says nothing about dismantling the apartheid wall that is being built by Israel to keep Palestinians out. It leaves key issues like the status of Jerusalem to an indefinite future, and Israel has expressly denied the Palestinians the right of return.

Time will tell whether the road map brings peace. However, any “peace plan” that evades the UN’s terms for a political solution – including Israel’s return to its 1967 borders, its agreement to the principle of Palestinian right of return and to compensation, and the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination – has little chance of success.

Mark Almberg is managing editor of the People’s Weekly World. He can be reached at malmberg@pww.org