If the arch-settler Avigdor Lieberman ever had even the slightest concern about the potential negative influence of Ariel Sharon's "Herzliya speech" on the new government's policy, U.S. President George Bush's speech at the American Enterprise Institute last week removed it. Without any bargaining, Bush bought Israeli-made mines that rip the Quartet's road map to shreds. Or, if you prefer, they turn the vision of establishing a Palestinian state into a dream. Bush confirmed that in the territories, as in Iraq, he is aiming for a military victory and implementation of the right's doctrine. Like Sharon with regard to the territories, Bush is paying lip service to "bringing democracy" and to proper diplomatic procedure.
And if, on the eve of war with Iraq - when the United States is so in need of Arab trust - its president nevertheless lines up with the Israeli right, when will he force a Palestinian state on Israel - after the war? On the eve of the presidential elections? When he will need the Jewish vote?
No one expected that Bush would launch an Israeli-Palestinian peace process a few days before launching a war against Iraq. All that Tony Blair, his loyal ally, urged him to do was to declare his support for the Quartet's road map. This would have helped the U.S. refute the "double standards" charge that is gaining strength throughout the world, in the U.S. and even among key Republicans. But despite this, in his speech at AEI, Bush chose to adhere to the principles of his speech of June 24, 2002, which has become Sharon's diplomatic platform (or vice versa).
One would think that speeches aimed at the "national camp" would grate on the ears of members of the "peace camp." Yet the ultimatum on removing Yasser Arafat and the authorization for expanding the occupation became key articles in the diplomatic platform that opened the door to a partnership between ex-Moledet members and ex-Meretz members. Shinui's many lawyers would presumably not sign an agreement before they had read it carefully. But how would minister and attorney Yosef Paritzky advise a client to respond to a lawsuit if, before the negotiations on the assets stolen from him (as the client believes) could even begin, he was required to oust the chairman of his board of directors?
Would MK and attorney Etti Livni advise her client to sign an agreement stating that negotiations on dismantling the thousands of buildings erected on his land by force of arms should begin only after there is a demonstrated state of relative quiet? And would she advise him to agree that the power to decide whether this "quiet" has been demonstrated be given exclusively to his adversary (who has proven by his actions and announced publicly that he intends to erect additional buildings)?
The chances that the Palestinians will accede to Sharon's public demand that they oust Arafat - and in earnest, not through the "sham" appointment of a prime minister - are identical to the chances that Israelis will accede to Arafat's demand that they oust Sharon. Where will anyone find a Palestinian leader willing to order the collection of all illegal weapons and to dismantle all the security services ("the terrorist organizations," according to the Herzliya speech) without Israel even hinting at a commitment to freeze the settlements, even temporarily, and to dismantle the illegal outposts?
It is true that Israeli politicians' client is the state of Israel, not the Palestinians. Let us assume, therefore, that at Herzliya, Sharon did announce the establishment of Palestine, for the benefit of the state of Israel. But what did we gain from this? Neither an agreement to end the conflict nor even a waiver of the right of return. One would have to be extraordinarily negligent to read the "Herzliya speech" and believe that this document could serve as the basis of an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. And one would have to be a complete cynic to listen to Bush's AEI speech and conclude that these words will bring about an end to the violence and a renewal of negotiations.
And a final aside, for the benefit of those who nevertheless believe that there is something in the "Bush-Sharon understandings": In the coalition agreement, the prime minister effectively retracted the public commitment he made at Herzliya to bring these "understandings" to the new cabinet for approval as soon as it was established.
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