Every Israeli prime minister in the last 25 years has "gone bonkers" at least once during his term of office and taken some unexpected step toward peace that wasn't on his election platform.

Begin gave up all of Sinai for peace. Shamir broke the international summit taboo and attended the Madrid Conference. Rabin, an old hawk, recognized the PLO and shook hands with Arafat. Netanyahu withdrew from Hebron. Barak was prepared to divide Jerusalem. And Sharon, who has never been involved in any peace process and flooded the territories with settlements to create an irreversible situation, has pushed through the hardest decision of all: commitment to a timetable and a series of compromises that will lead to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

The approval of the road map by the Big Daddy of the settlers and the greatest arm-twister of them all, is not surprising. Not because of his election promises, but because the most important lesson Sharon has learned since coming to power is that he can't afford to quarrel with the United States.

He already adopted the "Bush vision," revolving around the establishment of a Palestinian state, last year. He realized back then that Bush was the biggest, most understanding friend that Israel has ever had in the White House.

Former prime ministers have sparred with American presidents and even turned Congress and public opinion against them. So why is Sharon giving in? Because Bush said so. When America gets into the picture, there is no one more pliable than Sharon. The prime minister is convinced that he and Bush are on the same wavelength when it comes to fighting terrorists. But when he tugged the rope a bit too hard, he discovered that his American buddy can also be a tough cookie.

Especially after the war in Iraq and America's troubles there, Bush has had less patience for Sharon's stalling tactics and excuses. Israel demanded 100 changes to the road map. Attorney Dov Weisglass came and went, came and went, but he got the same categorical reply: Nothing doing. Take it or leave it. Sharon pared the list down to 14, but the White House stuck to its guns: "We'll gladly consider your revisions but only at the negotiating table. The document must be accepted as is."

Most likely, secret understandings were reached on certain clauses (the right of return, for instance). Shamir's participation in the Madrid Conference became possible only after the Israeli ambassador to Washington, Zalman Shoval, cobbled together a secret agreement assuring that no Palestinian state would arise and no PLO delegation would be present. Now Sharon is talking about a state for the Palestinians, an end to the violence, evacuation of settlements and withdrawal from the territories carried out according to a tight schedule. The messiah must be on his way.

Bush is fixated on getting this agreement signed and sealed because his bid for a second term will focus on the economy and a safer America. A survey carried out recently by the U.S. Jewish organizations found that only 5 percent of Americans are interested in our affairs. Bush has not forgotten that both his father and Jimmy Carter, who invested so much in furthering the peace process, lost their kingdom because of the economy. America in a recession, on alert for the next terrorist attack, will not be an easy place to get reelected.

After Bush has got rid of the strategic threat on the eastern front for us, promised us a billion dollars in aid plus $9 billion in economic guarantees, and handed Syria a yellow card, Bush associates, and also the media, have begun to feel a certain ingratitude on our part. Patience for Sharon's foot-dragging has waned.

At the moment, America is enveloped in a cloud of gung-ho patriotism. It will not tolerate any standoff between Israel and its president. Bush enjoys sweeping support in Congress, and this is not the time for the Jewish lobby to get senators to fire off pro-Israel, anti-Bush letters. Israel will have to find a way of adapting to the American plan, including "painful concessions."

The government decision on Sunday, with all the hemming and hawing, and all the hairsplitting that went with it, is a historical decision. It makes no difference if Sharon winks at the settlers out of the corner of his eye or thinks he can pussyfoot around. The nationalist camp has lost another battle. With Arafat or without him, the convoy is on its way. Sharon can take the lead or he can trail behind. In any case, Bush is in the driver's seat.