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Nobody was dancing for joy in the streets of Ramallah after hearing the Israeli prime minister's holiday message announcing that the peace process is taking shape because of early signs of Palestinians recognizing that the intifada has failed.

The response didn't extend much beyond the sentiment "that's what he says." More than a year ago, Ariel Sharon said he was adopting the Mitchell plan, but he never brought the plan to the cabinet for approval. So what if he "welcomed" U.S. President George Bush's speech of June 24, which enjoined Israel to "take concrete steps to help establish a Palestinian state."

Palestinian leaders have relinquished the final vestiges of hope that the Labor party will at least force Sharon to withdraw Israel Defense Forces troops from Hebron. Does anyone remember that Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer "vehemently denied" reports that the second stage of the Gaza-Bethlehem First plan was to be delayed until "after the holidays?" This is the same Ben-Eliezer who at the end of Operation Protective Shield said there's no point in remaining in a government that doesn't convert a military victory into diplomatic gains.

Public opinion polls indicate that elections will not improve matters. It could be that Sharon would keep Ben-Eliezer in the Defense Ministry after elections, but he would probably be able to piece together a stable coalition without the Labor party.

Salvation won't come from Europe, nor from Russia, nor the United Nations. The foreign minister of the European Union's current president Denmark returned to Copenhagen last week with nothing substantive. His peace plan will claim a respectable spot with many others that fill the filing cabinets of newspaper archives. The "Quartet" mechanism, which was originally meant to expand the network of consultations on the peace process, now functions as a fig leaf for American policy - Quartet members admit it is a cover for President Bush's "sit and do nothing" policy.

The Bush administration has not even met its promise to send CIA director George Tenet to the territories. No date has been set for the arrival of the delegation of experts, which was supposed to help the Palestinians implement security reforms.

U.S. envoy David Satterfield, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, who visited the country last week, indicated that for better or worse, no major official in Washington can be expected to relate to the Nusseibeh-Ayalon agreement. Discussions with Satterfield, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the country in months, also established that nobody in the administration has a clue what Bush intends to do in Israel (if anything at all) after he frees himself from the proposed war on Iraq. The only person in the world who could have reacted to the cue Sharon sent out on Jewish New Year will be busy elsewhere in the months ahead.

The first Gulf War taught that after victory, and after the Americans imposed the Madrid Conference upon the two sides, the Palestinians and Israelis will do nothing that the Americans don't do for them. The Oslo agreement, which is nine years old this week, was not a perfect document and on both side interest groups exploited the gaps in the accord. Sharon's analysis is fairly accurate - after paying a steep price for the mistake of using violence, the Palestinians' desire has increased to return to the negotiating table and discuss an independent state formed around the 1967 borders. The same cannot be said about an Israeli government of settlements and discrimination.

There's no sign that Sharon seriously intends to capitalize on the moment of opportunity which he himself has noted. He prefers to wait until the new order that Bush intends to create in the region brings him more suitable negotiation partners or terms. The "Oslo architect" Shimon Peres does not see eye-to-eye with his boss. Peres understands that by the time Bush finishes with his war against non-conventional terror, one large can bomb might be enough to create a vision of a New Middle East upheld by Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

The tragedy is that instead of crying foul in public, the Nobel Peace laureate and his colleagues - who speak without shame of raising the banner of Rabin's heritage - are playing a part in preventing the right of return to reconciliation.