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Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's announcement that he no longer sees himself bound by his commitment to U.S. President George Bush not to harm Yasser Arafat violates the understandings reached with Bush and the Americans.

Sharon's promise to Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to include settlement blocs inside the separation barrier, is also a violation of these understandings.

So far Sharon has only made declarations, and not taken actions, but the words are significant. Why should the Americans keep promises made to Sharon during his last visit to Washington?

Once again Sharon has managed to focus attention on Arafat and made him a hero in the media among the Palestinians, in the Arab states and in international public opinion. Arafat has recently been in the shadows. Palestinian voices were increasingly saying that the plight of their people and the unilateral withdrawal and Sharon's achievements with Bush derived from Arafat's mistakes. Behind the scenes there was talk of the need to prepare for "the day after Arafat."

Sharon's declaration that he can harm Arafat musters broad support for the Palestinian leader. This happened, too, when the Muqata was almost completely destroyed by Israeli bulldozers.

Sharon's statement now about Arafat was apparently intended to strengthen his standing among Likud's voters before the party's referendum on the Gaza disengagement plan. Actually, Arafat's continued rule and his being in the territories serves Sharon's interests. As long as Arafat rules, Sharon can say that he has no Palestinian partner for negotiations.

The Americans support Sharon in this, and there is even a quiet agreement among many European leaders about it. This lends a certain legitimacy to Sharon's position against negotiation and in favor of unilateral steps. In other words, Sharon's statement about Arafat does not reflect his true strategy. But his words create the negative impression that he intends to break his promise to Bush.

A previous statement of Sharon's, his promise to Netanyahu to fence settlement blocs, also indicates a violation of understandings with the Americans. The finance minister explained that he supports the disengagement plan because Sharon promised him to include settlement blocs inside the separation fence surrounding Israel and part of the territories. According to the understandings with the Americans, however, Israel would continue building the separation barrier only in sections agreed on with the U.S. When Israel wants to build the barrier in controversial sections, it must first coordinate with the Americans.

At the end of the meeting in Washington it was clear that at present the fence construction around the settlement blocs will be delayed. Clearly, the most controversial sections are those around settlement blocs east of the Green Line.

When Washington asks Israel to "coordinate" in advance, it is clear to both sides that this means an American agreement or understanding. Hence, if Israel starts extending the route of the main separation fence around the town Ariel, this would be a violation of the understandings with Washington and President Bush.