Sharon has the power
It's in Ariel Sharon's hands. He should not only blame the shaky Palestinian Authority. He should not say he doesn't have the political power to pry the process forward and even come out of it a winner. He has the political power. He has the personal authority. As far as can be seen, it's the desire he doesn't have.
There's a growing measure of despair among all the players in this blood-dripping drama.
It's among the Palestinians, who began doing what Washington and Jerusalem demanded, but never received anything in return from Israel. On our side, murderous terror plays into the hands of irresponsible politics, providing an excuse to justify rejectionism, making Israelis despair.
Bush's Washington, which has never shown any burning desire to manage an agreement, deals with it at arm's length, pretty much fed up. Sharon's canceled trip to George Bush symbolizes the key role the prime minister gives to terror threats, pushing to the sidelines any form of diplomatic effort.
Gradually, through a lengthy process of brainwashing, the fatalistic Israeli majority is getting used to thinking there's nothing that can be done. And that's not true.
The assumption that nothing can be done was not invented by the current government. The real momentum for that national thesis came from Ehud Barak. He came back from talks with the Palestinians and sparked the beginning of a despairing atmosphere with the sweeping argument - problematic in its reasoning - that the other side wouldn't take, even when offered nearly everything.
Since then, the path of non-dialogue and the massive use of military power has not helped. The Qassam rocket launches at Sderot are a despairing testimony to this: Even the repeated incursions into Gaza have not halted the cheeky threat against an Israeli township. When the IDF's efficacy is measured by its results, the ongoing killing effectively means a retreat in its defensive and deterrent capabilities. If that is what happens after two years of eroding the terrorist organizations in the territories, then there is, indeed, reason for despair.
But during this same period, there were some developments that could have raised hope. The efforts by the political and military echelons to weaken Arafat succeeded beyond their dreams. The political system in the Palestinian Authority succumbed to the pressure adopting unprecedented changes. Although it hasn't used all the options of pressure at its disposal, the United States isn't giving up the effort to advance its peace program. The Labor Party may have been smashed, but it will ensure Sharon's parliamentary majority if he shows any sign of flexibility. The only factor that hasn't moved a bit from its stubborn positions is the government, run by a leader conducting a dangerous game with the national interest.
There would be no justification for despair if the prime minister were to join the efforts to resuscitate the peace initiative. Why didn't he declare, without tricks or spins, that he accepts the road map? What would have happened if one night he were to take down a dozen outposts? And why did his foreign minister, in a stupid, provocative move, donate the old shacks of the foreign ministry to the settlements when the ministry moved to its new home? Why does Sharon need to wave around his fear (as he told Bush and Colin Powell and anyone else who cares to listen) that he won't have a government if he takes down settlements or even if he adopts the road map?
On the anti-despair side, it's definitely possible to assume that the rejectionist parties in the Sharon coalition won't be in any hurry to quit. If they do, as noted, the prime minister is guaranteed an alternative majority. Despite the brainwashing of a despairing public, there is still a majority in the street who want an agreement involving concessions.
Not a hair would fall out of Sharon's conniving head if he were to push - now, despite the attacks - an unconditional initiative with significant gestures. If he really wanted an agreement (according to the since-denied version he disseminated through a conciliatory interview last month in Haaretz) there's practically no doubt the moves would win him popularity. His prognosis that seeks to fulfill itself, as if conciliation would bring down his government, would be disproven.
It's in his hands. He should not only blame the shaky Palestinian Authority. He should not say he doesn't have the political power to pry the process forward and even come out of it a winner. He has the political power. He has the personal authority. As far as can be seen, it's the desire he doesn't have.