Along with the Yahad faction's support for Ariel Sharon on Monday, support that won the new government Knesset approval albeit by a very slim margin, party leader Yossi Beilin also demanded the government make a goodwill gesture toward Abu Mazen, starting with allowing the Palestinian police to bear arms.
Beilin burst through an open door: Israel intends to propose to the new Palestinian leadership to take over security responsibility for the cities of the West Bank, and in any case to impose law and order in them any way possible, including the use of force.
Official Jerusalem understands that something happened this week: A new government arose in Ramallah and in Israel, and in another week a new administration will take office in Washington. And there's the rub. The powers that be in Israel are taking into account that the second Bush administration will not necessarily be identical with the first: neither in its approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, its composition, nor the balance of power inside it. A significant change is expected in Bush's attitude toward the Palestinians, as could already be seen in the president's warm congratulations to Abu Mazen and the invitation to the White House that Bush extended to the new Palestinian president.
The American administration will be the power supply that sends current to Jerusalem and Ramallah to divert the violent conflict to a track of political dialogue. He will demand that Abu Mazen make a major change in his government's capability for enforcing his will on the Palestinian street and foremost on the terror organization, and he will demand that Israel help Abu Mazen and thus fulfill its part in the actualization of the road map.
As things appeared this week, Sharon and his new government intend to grab the opportunity offered with the election of Abu Mazen and not repeat the mistake of the previous government, which waited for Abu Mazen the chick to grow its feathers.
The new government's starting point is that Abu Mazen was elected on a platform that expressed his intent to end the terror and impose law and order in the Palestinian Authority, including unifying all the security services under one command. That approach won the confidence of a majority of the Palestinian public, and from now on, the head of the PA won't be able to claim that he can't do anything because he doesn't have the authority.
The prevailing view in the Israeli defense establishment is that Abu Mazen should be pressed to strike while the iron is hot, and start dismantling the armed organizations.
The assessments are that Abu Mazen is indeed in favor of that and understands it is his first, fateful priority, but he refuses to use force to achieve the goal.
In Jerusalem they fear that his approach, no matter how understandable from his point of view, will expose him to domestic difficulties that will foil his intentions. And in the Israeli power centers they say that if Abu Mazen is not quick to impose his will on the terror organizations, there will be major terror attacks that will send the conflict back into the cycle of bloodshed.
It's possible, of course, to regard the Israeli approach as a recycling of its well known self-righteous position, blaming everything on a Palestinian syndrome of failure that makes Israelis believe the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
That may indeed be the case this time, as well. However, it's impossible to ignore the genuine developments: the death of Arafat, the disengagement plan, the heavy political price that Sharon is paying to lead his policy, the establishment of a new government in Israel.
These are powerful elements that can change reality, especially since there is a president in Washington who holds effective levers of influence over both Sharon and Abu Mazen.
Abu Mazen's first test will be about the measure of determination he shows to impose law and order in the Palestinian cities and to cease the terror industry.
If he succeeds, Israel will remove the IDF from any Palestinian city where Abu Mazen declares he is ready to take security responsibility.
Sharon's test will be his agreement to give up the unilateralism of his disengagement plan, replacing it with official negotiations over coordinating the withdrawal with the new Palestinian leader.
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