A few truths and a few lies accompany that odd couple of prime ministers - Mahmoud Abbas and Ariel Sharon - on their way to see President George Bush this week, and the lies have the upper hand. For example, there is the one that says if Abbas dismantles the infrastructure of Hamas, Sharon will release "thousands of prisoners." Of course Sharon and those to his right will always have clear-cut evidence that not all the infrastructure has been dismantled.
There are also some important truths but they are powerless. For example, the truth that says that there will be no upswing in the Israeli economy, no matter how many cruelties are inflicted, if things do not change between Israelis and Palestinians. Another unfortunate truth - Sharon also knows this all too well.
The number of truths versus the number of lies makes it clear that only a determined external factor will allow truth to win on the way to an accord. That is the U.S. president. Of course, he is not guiltless when it comes to political untruths. However during the next week he will have a special reason to do the arithmetic of truth versus lies. He has to, when the two leaders come to him squirming over the road map that was of his making.
Another truth is that Sharon, and to some extent Abbas, have support from their peoples for an accord, although each of them needs to show his masses proof positive that the other side is serious. Yet another truth is that up until now Abbas has been very moderate in his demands, to the point of endangering his position. He has not mentioned the outposts. More than he needs them dismantled, he is bound to satisfy a need the Israelis are very familiar with - to liberate prisoners from a foreign jail.
As opposed to the outposts and the restoration of the status quo ante 2000, freeing prisoners is not part of the road map. But Abbas owes it to the opposition organizations so as to preserve the cease-fire - and to his people who are dying to bring a little happiness into their homes.
And of all Abbas' needs, why should Sharon respond positively to this one? Because his truth, dipped in lies, is that it will be easier to free even "terrorists" than to dismantle outposts. This time, the needs of the odd couple, one a bullying and almost autocratic leader and the other a weak, inexperienced one, complement each other.
Like Abbas, Sharon prefers to replace difficult concessions to which he is obligated with goods he was not required to deliver. With his impressively manipulative talents, Sharon created a situation whereby the world, the Palestinians, and knee-jerk reactions in Israel will praise him for shuffling the cards with such dexterous sleight-of-hand. He will come out with the winning card, and Abbas will be satisfied. And is Abbas not cheating? Not in the meantime. No prime minister buffeted by the wind like he is can deliver any goods without incentives from Israel.
With truths like these, Sharon almost doesn't need lies. But he has them, of course. He cheated when he dismantled a few outposts - while a couple of mobile homes were being removed in one place new outposts were popping up in another. The IDF moved forces out of Gaza as if it had not intended to do exactly that after failing to quieten the Strip. Sharon also ordered a partial IDF withdrawal from Bethlehem. If he had really wanted a dramatically improved atmosphere, he would have changed standing orders at roadblocks, where thousands of humiliated Palestinians get stuck daily, not for true reasons of security, but because that's what Sharon wants.
This structure of lies has to change if President Bush truly wants to move the wagon of his vision ahead. One of the basic truths of Arab-Israeli accords is that not one of them would have been signed if immoderate force had not been exerted by the American superpower. Bush should not lie to himself, either. If he doesn't use pressure this time, on both sides, his own interests in the area will suffer, from the Euphrates to the Nile.
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