A researcher looking at the roots of the change that took place in the spring of 2003 in the Israel-Palestine-U.S. power balance will no doubt give pause to examine the interview with former Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit in Yedioth Ahronoth in the winter of 2001. He promised, "If we get rid of Arafat there won't be anyone who will fill his shoes as a door-opener to the leaders of the world, and the Palestinian issue will drop off the international agenda." Shavit, a friend of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, "revealed" that the shoes of the door-opener are closed to the moderate Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) "because of his Bahai background," with the former top intelligence boss of Israel explaining, "The chances a Bahai will be leader of the Palestinians are about the same that a Samaritan will be president of Israel."

If Sharon bought that nonsense, then the decision "to get rid of" Arafat may have been meant to torpedo the Palestinian issue, but in effect was the first step to putting it back on the international - meaning American - agenda. The name "Abbas" might be coincidentally the same as the last name of one of the founders of the Bahai faith, but Abbas is Muslim and the coincidence didn't prevent Abbas from becoming the Palestinian prime minister. Not only did the doors of the White House, which had been closed to Yasser Arafat, open to Abbas, President George W. Bush spent 40 of his precious minutes with Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayyad. And instead of Mahmoud going to the mountain - Washington - the leader of the free world came to the Middle East to hold a three-way summit with Abbas and Sharon.

According to one of the participants in the three-way meeting of the delegations, a lot can be learned about the swinging American pendulum from the Israeli side to the Palestinian side.

At the advance request of Israel, Bush's aides put security problems at the top of the agenda for discussion. "The first thing that Bush was required to talk about was security," says the participant, adding, "It was a request of the Israelis. So [Bush] asked Dahlan to give a briefing."

According to the source, Dahlan gave an excellent five-minute synopsis of the situation, and concluded by saying to Bush: "There are some things we can do and some things we cannot. We will do our best. But we will need help."

Mofaz burst in at the end of Dahlan's presentation and said: "Well, they won't be getting any help from us; they have their own security service."

You could see that Bush was irritated, says the participant, and he turned on Mofaz angrily: "Their own security service? But you have destroyed their security service."

Mofaz shook his head and said: "I do not think that we can help them, Mr. President," - to which Bush said: "Oh, but I think that you can. And I think that you will."

Then Bush turned to Abbas - again according to a script insisted on by the Israelis - and said: "Mr. Prime Minister, perhaps you could give an overview of the situation in the West Bank and Gaza." Abbas outlined the increasingly dire situation of the territories, saying that the humanitarian crisis was deepening, and that while recent actions of the finance minister had eased the problems, the insertion of new funding was necessary.

Sharon then interrupted and said: "The insertion of new funding must be dependent on your good behavior."

Bush was again visibly irritated: "You should release their money as soon as possible. This will help the situation."

Sharon shook his head: "We have to deal with security first, and we will condition the release of their monies on this alone."

Bush peered at Sharon: "But it is their money ..."

Sharon said: "Nevertheless, Mr. President ..." and Bush interrupted him: "It is their money, give it to them."

Clintonization?

After that meeting, Bush turned to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and said, "We have a problem with Sharon I can see, but I like that young man [Dahlan] and I think their prime minister is incapable of lying. I hope that they will be successful. We can work with them."

Bush was pleased with the determination with which Abbas rebuffed pressure from his ministers, Nabil Sha'ath and Yasser Abed Rabbo, to toughen the language of the Abbas speech, which he had agreed upon with the American delegation before the summit. They said it would cause trouble in the Palestinian Authority. They argued heatedly with Abbas about his comments, at one point in front of the president. But Abbas insisted that his remarks follow the outlines set out by Bush. Bush watched the interplay and was pleased Abbas agreed to the suggestions of Bush on the draft remarks: "If you will just do this, I pledge to you we will get where your colleagues want you to go. But we are going to take one step at a time."

Ever since the summit at the 1998 Wye River plantation, summoned by president Clinton and attended by Benjamin Netanyahu, Ariel Sharon and a Palestinian delegation headed by Arafat, when the Palestinians "received" 13 percent of the West Bank, they haven't had such a victory in the international arena. Encouraged by the impression that this time the game isn't tilted in favor of the Israelis, Abbas has become even surer that he has to stick as close as possible to Bush. What Sharon can do in his relations with the president, Abbas can do better, or at least no worse. The closer the U.S. draws toward him, the further away grow the dangers posed by Hamas, Arafat and Abbas' rivals in Fatah.

The Palestinian prime minister believes if the Americans force Sharon to evacuate the Palestinian population centers and the Jewish outposts - and restrain Mofaz - the rejectionists will be deterred from a confrontation with Dahlan's forces. He also believes Hamas understands it's a new situation after the Aqaba summit and that they have nothing to gain from renewing the suicide bombings. In Palestinian Authority offices, the assessments are that sooner, rather than later, Hamas will resume discussions of a cease-fire.

In Ramallah, as well as Jerusalem, they're flipping through the pages of the Washington political calender. Abbas is taking into account that until next November, when Bush faces the voters, it would be a waste to spend any words debating borders, Jerusalem and the refugees. The agreement hammered out by Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo has been waiting, in vain, for weeks for Abbas' signature. Nor does the short-term vision of the Palestinian state in provisional borders take up much of his attention. In any case, he faces long months of rebuilding the civil and security infrastructure. Before touching on the truly painful concessions, and not a few empty mobile homes and trailers on some lonely hilltop, the mutual trust in the streets of Ramallah and Tel Aviv has to be restored.

The Palestinians want to postpone the negotiations over the final settlement to after the presidential elections. They assume that if Bush is reelected to a second term (and they manage to rein in the terrorists), he will move from words along the lines of Aqaba, to deeds along the lines of Baghdad. Meanwhile, he's trying to decide who is the best person to serve as his personal monitor - diplomat John Wolf will only head the inspectors teams. At first Bush considered giving the mission to Secretary of State Colin Powell and Rice. But meanwhile, he has backed off the idea of making it such a high-level position. Indeed, the level of the presidential envoy will show if Bush is at the first stage of Clintonization or at the last.

Electrifying outposts

Infrastructure Minister Yosef Paritzky couldn't believe his eyes. The date on government decision 471 (HT2) "to authorize the decision by the ministerial committee on settlement in Yesha regarding the outposts" was made on October 28, 1999.

In other words, a Labor-Meretz government was responsible for the following: "Decide to authorize the prime minister and defense minister to use his authority and judgment regarding the settlement points/isolated outposts, that are not contiguous with existing built-up settlements in Judea and Samaria, taking into consideration and based on among other things the relevant security and legal aspects."

The Barak government provided a most generous interpretation to those security and legal aspects. An internal memo at the Civil Administration regarding connecting the illegal outposts to the infrastructure, reported that in 1999, then-deputy defense minister Ephraim Sneh approved the construction of a mikveh (ritual bath) for the use of 35 inhabitants of the Hirsha outpost, which for some reason is defined in the memo as a "strategic site." According to the memo, a week before the government gave him the authority to legalize isolated outposts at whim, Barak decided to "speed up procedures" to authorize an outpost called Neveh Erez (South).

The memo also reports that Mitzpeh Assaf did not have approval to connect to the electrical grid, so it connected illegally, without informing the staff officer for electricity in the Civil Administration.

Paritzky asked who was paying for the electricity. He couldn't believe what he heard when he was told that the settlers connect the illegal outpost to the nearby army camp. But since they are decent people, the settlers made sure to put a meter in, and they pay the army for the electricity. Paritzky couldn't understand exactly who was paid? The guard, the battalion commander, the chief of staff?

In a letter to the minister, settler Yoram Resis-Tal, the acting staff officer for electricity in the Civil Administration, says that (only) a few weeks ago, at a meeting between the heads of the Civil Administration and the Electric Corp. on the issue of the outposts, it was decided to cease connecting them to the electricity grid, except for the unusual ones. And what constitutes an unusual outpost? "An outpost that the defense minister ordered advancing the process to turn it into a legal outpost." And who crowned the defense minister king of the territories? Yossi Sarid and Yossi Beilin. It's well known that in those territories, "security and legal aspects" really means "political and relative aspects."

The Shas man in Taibeh

There are some places, like Jerusalem, Haifa and Or Akiva, where the resignation of the mayor means early elections for a new mayor. In other local authorities, or more precisely, in almost all other local authorities, the residents are invited to vote for their new mayor on the date set in the law, this coming October. "Almost," because the residents of Taibeh, the Arab town in the Triangle, are supposed to remain with their current mayor, Salah Jabara. But Jabara was not elected by the residents, he was appointed by the city council as a result of the resignation of his predecessor, Issam Masrawa, and as of right now, he won't have to go through the trials and tribulations of running for the elected office.

Interior Minister Avraham Poraz found an order issued by his predecessor, Shas' Eli Yishai, canceling elections in Taibeh. The order was explained by irregularities found in the city's finances by an external accountant sent to examine the books.

MKs Ahmed Tibi and Mohammed Barakeh told Poraz this week that Shas collected 400 votes in Taibeh, a rather impressive achievement considering the number of synagogues in the town. No wonder that the ministry director general, Mordechai Mordechai, himself a leftover from Shas' control of the ministry, recommended to the new minister from Shinui that Jabara remain in the mayor's office.

The Arab MKs told Poraz that it's already bad enough the residents of Taibeh didn't get to go to the polls like the residents of Jerusalem, Haifa, and Or Akiva. They want Poraz to cancel Yishai's order and call elections in Taibeh. Poraz promised to decide in the near future and to let them know, after getting advice from the professionals in the ministry.