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It was so easy. No stress, no voices raised. Bush just nodded to Condoleezza, Condoleezza told Weisglass, Weisglass passed the word to Sharon - and Sharon agreed to leave Arafat be, despite all the threats to have him deported or killed.

This week, the procedure is repeating itself. The same chain of command has gone into action, so facile, so friendly, with the result being that the Israeli separation fence will not encompass Ariel or lunge deep into Palestinian territory.

It is worth mentioning the submissiveness in both cases of most of Israel's government ministers, and the absence of public demonstrations. In the long run, the overwhelming majority of Israelis, with Sharon at the top of the list, realize that a head-on confrontation with the United States is not an option. Or to put it differently, there is such an option, but it would be insane.

But does the United States understand this? And if it does, then what conclusion has it drawn?

In consistently giving preference to U.S.-Israel relations over any other consideration, Sharon is articulating, in the deepest sense, the existential dilemma in which Israel finds itself. It can no longer save itself by its own means. Even Sharon, the man who dismantled Yamit in days gone by, cannot free Israel from the burden of the territories and thereby guarantee its future as a Jewish state. He cannot do so politically, and apparently not emotionally either. Sharon is not the Israeli de Gaulle.

The most Sharon is capable of doing, and is in fact doing though perhaps not intentionally, is to direct the mute cry emanating from our political impotence toward our superpower ally: Save us from ourselves!

Abu Mazen, in the few weeks of his failed government, was also sending out distress signals to Washington: Save us from the subversive, pathological rejectionism of Arafat.

True, the United States has consistently avoided using all its clout, from 1967 until today, to pry Israel away from its grip on the territories. But the more the situation goes downhill, the vision of an agreed-upon solution slips away and the Bosnian scenario looms larger, the need to save Israel from itself - and the region from catastrophe - becomes a more vital and pressing American interest.

Lately, after the slim hopes for Abu Mazen's government were dashed, America has become more sharply aware of the gravity of the danger which could soon ruin forever any chance of implementing a "two states for two peoples" solution.

"By 2020," states a recent editorial in The New York Times, "the Jews will be a minority... Talk of two states will end. Two options will remain: an apartheid state ... or a new political entity without a Jewish identity. The conclusion is clear. Israel must begin to plan its exit from the West Bank and Gaza, not only to permit the creation of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state, but to preserve its own future."

As for the United States, the editorial continues, "true support for Israel means helping it see through its pain and rage to its own best interest."

Bill Clinton essentially offered the same dire prognostication in Tel Aviv this week - albeit wrapped in the tender sentiments of "someone who loves Israel more than words can say," but leaving no room for doubt. "Every year," he warned, "the Palestinians grow larger, younger, poorer, angrier." Israel would continue to prevail militarily, he said, "but they will break your heart."

From the waves of admiration that engulf Clinton every time he visits here, one sees the marginality of the impact of those Israeli and American Jewish extremists who attempted to portray the former U.S. president as hostile because of his relentless efforts to redivide this country to accommodate two peoples.

President Bush, with his clear-eyed vision of two states living in peace side by side, would win the sweeping support of his people, of the world - and also of this tormented land - if he would just give the nod to Condoleezza to tell Weisglass to pass the word to Sharon: Get out of the territories.