It's well known that peace is made by strong leaders who can deliver the goods. It's well known that Israeli governments never missed an opportunity to sign a peace deal with Hafez Assad, an omni-powerful leader by any standard. According to Bill Clinton and his advisers, as well as Uri Saguy, who headed Israel's negotiation team with Syria, Assad was ready more than half a decade ago to sign an agreement along the same lines of the Egyptian and Jordanian peace agreements. (If Assad were alive, Ariel Sharon and George W. Bush would send him, before anything else, to study Plato's writings on democracy.) It's well known that Hafez's successor, Bashar, is a weak leader. In other words, he's no partner.

Yasser Arafat was a strong leader of the sort that can make peace. But since he refused to sign an agreement that many Israelis considered "the most generous offer," and did not give up the use of violence in its entirety, he won a double title - both "not a partner" and "irrelevant."

It's said about Mahmoud Abbas that he does want to put an end to the bloodshed and solve the dispute through peaceful means. He wants, but he's a loser, he can't do it. They say Abu Mazen's one hand is cuffed to evildoers from the Fatah leadership and the other hand is cuffed to the Hamas and Islamic Jihad. So, what's done for a neighbor such as this, who wants peace but regrettably faces some difficulties? Correct. Offer a helping hand while learning the lessons from missing the opportunity to consolidate his power when he served as prime minister under Arafat. But Sharon, then as now, first cuts his wings and then compares him to a featherless chick.

Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian official in charge of negotiations, has a different image. He compares Abu Mazen to a man thrown into water with his feet and hands shackled, and as he drowns, the complaint goes up that he doesn't know how to swim. Not only that, but his relatives are asked to give a prize to the people who threw him into the water - as in the "peace plan" proposed by Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom in Cairo that calls for diplomatic relations with 10 Arab countries (a "plan" that completely ignores the fact that all the countries in the entire Arab League agreed to forge diplomatic ties with Israel in 2002 in exchange for a withdrawal to the 1967 borders). If the prime minister were to take the time to read the Foreign Ministry's report on Shalom's meetings with the Egyptian leadership, he'd learn that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is beginning to feel that Israel is deceiving him.

Following the February 8 Sharm el-Sheikh summit between Sharon and Abu Mazen, as a gesture of goodwill, Egypt sent an ambassador to Tel Aviv. What remains of all the high-flying rhetoric and promises Sharon handed out in the speech he delivered to his first, and so far only, meeting with the new Palestinian leader? What happened to the "new spirit, which grants our people hope that we cannot allow to pass us by"? Has Sharon kept his promise "to cease military activities against Palestinians wherever they are"? What happened to the agreement about "transferring security responsibility over Palestinian areas," or the promise to free "hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in the near future," and even to establish "a joint forum to examine prisoner releases in the future"?

It is difficult to decide what is worse - that the prime minister is unaware that every delay in fulfilling those promises further weakens Abu Mazen and strengthens opponents of any compromise, or that he is aware of the bad influence of Israeli policies on Abu Mazen's situation, but finds it more convenient to have a weak Palestinian leader. It is difficult to believe that Sharon does not know that the cease-fire with Hamas and integrating that organization into the political process is considered one of Abu Mazen's most important achievements.

Strange. A politician who is afraid to evacuate dozens of outposts inhabited by lawbreakers and needs the opposition's help to survive is considered a strong leader. A politician ready to sign a peace agreement between two states is considered a weak leader. The important thing is that there's no partner.