It's one thing if Likud MK Gila Gamliel was shocked to hear the word "occupation" coming out of the mouth of the prime minister at the stormy Likud meeting on Monday. The Likud could possibly get along without the masses of votes she brought to the party, as Ariel Sharon hinted with a gentle sneer.

But what about those 300 and more U.S. congressmen - senators and members of the House of Representatives - who were talked into writing to the White House to express their dismay over the "road map," that same map which the Sharon administration now says it accepts? Will these sympathetic legislators be prepared to rally around Israel next time, when they are really needed? Or will they remember how ardent pro-Israel lobbyists, Jews and Christians alike, cried wolf over the road map, and choose to drag their feet rather than leap to attention once more?

Even if we assume, or at least hope, that these friends of ours in Congress, being professional, seasoned politicians, will turn a blind eye to the political zigzags (or - hopefully - the ideological transformation) of Sharon, and not hold it against Israel, what about the thousands of American Jews, friends and champions of Israel, who were asked to send letters, faxes and e-mails to those legislators, urging them to write to the White House?

These Jews, some of them affiliated with political and religious organizations, sincerely believed that in waging a vigorous campaign against the road map, as they were encouraged to do by AIPAC and other pro-Israel bodies, they were serving Israel's vital interests. And then, practically overnight, they discover that Israeli opposition to the map was only a ploy, and has now won the blessing of the prime minister and the government.

Will the support of these warm Jews remain intact, or will this awkward episode mar the basic trust that must be the underpinning of Israel's relations with its most loyal advocates?

The truth is that the "pro-Israel" lobby against the road map was so effective and so successful that even ordinary, non-activist American Jews were swept up in the tide of opposition to it. On a visit this month to several Jewish communities on the West Coast - supposedly a bastion of dovishness - I was sorry to find vigorous hostility toward the road map, and profound mistrust of the administration that intends to promote it. This seemed the dominant view among Jews identifying with Israel (there are also some who deny its right to exist).

Someone said here this week, in praise of Sharon, that he caught the ultra-rightists in his cabinet with their pants down. If that is the case, it is certainly praiseworthy. But the trouble with this back-flip, admirable in itself, is that many of Israel's friends overseas have also been left with their pants somewhere around their ankles.

This is not the first time that Israel has behaved this way, out of arrogance or thoughtlessness. Jews and other friends of Israel, who spent years explaining to those around them why negotiating with the PLO was out of the question, suddenly found themselves abandoned high and dry on the propaganda battlefield. The same thing happened later to opponents of a Palestinian state. And that is what is happening now to those who were convinced, and made an effort to convince others, that "occupation" is a derogatory term when used of Israel, and an inappropriate and unfair description of the reality in the territories.

The problem, perhaps, lies in the cultural divide. Over in America, they don't understand that in this part of the world everything - absolutely everything - operates like a Turkish bazaar. You say "a" and you mean "b." Here in Israel, for example, most of us knew in the 1970s, and all of us knew in the 1980s, that in the end, we would negotiate with the PLO. The trouble is that we kept it a secret from our friends across the ocean. It was a kind of sophisticated little game that we played with ourselves, which ended up damaging the precious trust that needs to exist between us and the other half of the Jewish people.

Today another factor of the most critical importance has been added to the Israeli decision-making process. Over the past two or three years in particular, we have been witness to the fact that what Israel does or does not do has a swift and direct impact on the anti-Semitism index in many parts of the Jewish world. If only because of this chilling phenomenon, mutual trust between Israel and the rest of the Jewish world must sit very high on this country's list of priorities.