Ending terrorism still comes first
The U.S. administration has made it plain as day to Palestinian PM Abbas that the hudna is not a substitute for dismantling the terror organizations. This is not hot air, or some excuse invented by Ariel Sharon to buy time.
You'd think the Messiah was here. President Bush is calling Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) "a leader of vision and courage." Hosni Mubarak told students in Alexandria "Sharon is the only statesman in the Israeli political arena capable of making peace between Israel and the Palestinians."
Sharon will be meeting Bush today for the eighth time, carrying a whole basket of goodies - the release of Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners; the easing of a long line of restrictions on the Palestinians; the dismantling of at least 20 outposts, and a plan to restore Palestinian Authority control over Qalqilya and Jericho sometime this week.
With Allah's help, maybe the casino will reopen and the roulette-starved people of Israel will make the wilderness of Jericho bloom. But the best gift of all, tucked away in the bottom of Sharon's goody basket, is a building freeze on the last 60 kilometers of the security fence, the most problematic section, which hasn't been approved by the government in any case.
Sharon sees Bush as a brother-in-arms. Bush has been understanding about the targeted killings of terrorist leaders. The two have worked together to make Arafat irrelevant and push through the reforms that put Abu Mazen in the prime minister's seat.
Bush has placed his trust in Abbas as the embodiment of the reforms that will help to make his dreams of peace in the Middle East come true. Apart from trading back-slaps at the White House today, Bush and Sharon will map out further cooperative strategies, with the Americans expecting Israel to do its part in strengthening Abbas.
It's not Uzi Landau, Limor Livnat or Avigdor Lieberman who will decide whether Abu Mazen is abiding by Bush's guidelines and following the road map. It's the president of the United States. Bush, not Sharon, will decide who deserves a pat on the head and who doesn't. If Abbas does everything expected of him, it will be Sharon's turn to contribute his share of those "painful concessions" as a Palestinian state looms on the horizon.
Bush is deadly serious about implementing the road map and he wants it followed to the letter. The royal treatment for Abbas in Washington comes with strings attached - an expectation that he hand over the first pound of flesh, getting rid of the infrastructure of the terrorist organizations comes before the establishment of a state. Bush and Sharon are aligned so tightly on that point, you couldn't pass a pin between them.
The report from Washington by Yedioth Ahronoth correspondent Nahum Barnea, who described how Mohammed Dahlan won Bush over in a 15-minute speech, shows that the strongman of the Abbas administration has not absorbed just how determined Bush is. Dahlan said what matters is not whether Hamas mobilizes new recruits, but whether there are terrorist attacks.
On hearing this, according to Barnea, Bush smiled. It is unclear whether he did so because he was wowed by Dahlan, or amused at Dahlan's naive assumption that this load of bull would get past him.
The U.S. administration has made it plain as day to Abbas that the hudna is not a substitute for dismantling the terror organizations. This is not hot air, or some excuse invented by Sharon to buy time. It is Bush's very own, no-two-ways-about-it policy. The disbanding of terrorist organizations is the first operational clause of the road map and a prerequisite for its continuation.
The war on terror sits at the top of the Bush administration's national agenda. After Afghanistan and Iraq, the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld troika still has a long shopping list. Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden are alive and well, and America has its sights trained on Hezbollah and the other organizations that take orders from Iran et al. The grim congressional report on the intelligence bungles leading up to 9/11 has struck another blow at America's way of life, further undermining self-confidence, freedom of movement, tourism and attitudes toward minorities.
Bush and Sharon agree on some subjects and disagree on others. Bush is sure to demand a halt in settlement expansion, evacuation of settlements, and withdrawal to the 1967 borders. All of this, however, hinges not only on an end to terror but an end to terror organizations. On this, there will be no concessions and no discounts.
It would be the height of irresponsibility for the new Palestinian leadership to continue the long-standing tradition of missed opportunities, and also miss the one now being offered by Bush.