The Bush-Sharon collision course
On June 5, 1967, Washington woke up to a new reality: The IAF had struck the Egyptian air force at its bases. The U.S. sent an urgent message to the National Reconnaissance Office, which used satellites and spy planes to collect intelligence, asking for the only satellite in operation at the time to pass over Cairo's airport.
On June 5, 1967, Washington woke up to a new reality: The Israel Air Force had struck the Egyptian air force at its bases. The White House sent an urgent message to the National Reconnaissance Office, which used satellites and spy planes to collect intelligence, asking for the only satellite in operation at the time, KH-7, to pass over Cairo's airport. Military historian Jeffrey T. Richelson quotes then-Gen. Russell Berg as responding, "I would be most happy to satisfy the request, if you could arrange to move Cairo Airport 150 miles to the north and 200 miles to the east."
American capabilities to monitor the ongoing effects of that war have greatly improved since then. Flocks of satellites, local planes (which can be rented to monitor settlement construction, as Peace Now regularly does), and ground inspectors are all available to the U.S. these days. There are no sentiments, not toward Israel and not toward the American inspectors.
So far, the administration has been holding the hand of its envoy here, John Wolf, in light of Palestinian complaints about him being Jewish - a well-known ploy, often used against Dennis Ross - but if it becomes an obstacle to Wolf doing his job, Washington won't hesitate to do to him what it did in Iraq to Gen. Jay Garner, who was thrown out as the top U.S. civil administrator in Iraq in favor of Paul Bremer.
The basic policy has been stable for the last 36 years, even after the conflict with the Soviets ended and the insistence on the territorial integrity of all the states in the region according to the June 4, 1967 lines has partially ended. The Johnson and Nixon administrations did not back a Palestinian entity, but returning the West Bank to Jordan, with minor corrections to increase Israeli security in case of an invasion from the east. The Americans did not want an independent Palestine any more than they wanted a sovereign Kurdistan or Biafra separate from Nigeria. Israel's refusal to return the West Bank to King Hussein forced him to eventually give up his responsibility for the area.
The principle of "land for peace" has not changed: If a responsible and authoritative Arab government, in Cairo, Amman or, in the future, Damascus, makes a credible promise to Israel for peace - meaning security, recognition, relations and an end to hostilities - that Arab regime will received American backing for the demand that Israel hand over the land.
The Foreign Ministry's intelligence department, the Center for Political Research, lately analyzed the emerging trends in the region and Bush's policy toward it. It was a snapshot of the situation, based on a summary of the events and processes in 2002, with no pretense at prophecy - and the Israeli half of the equations were influenced by government decisions. The analysis yielded an assessment that Ariel Sharon is on a collision course with George Bush - unless Abu Mazen surrenders beforehand to Arafat and Hamas, which is still possible because so far, his good intentions have not yet been translated into deeds.
A solution to the Palestinian problem by establishing a Palestinian state is one of four goals in Bush's regional policy. The other goals are the war on terror and weapons of mass destruction, dissemination of democracy, and expanding trade and economic agreements.
If Abu Mazen provides Israel with security, Sharon will be told to evacuate territory and settlements. Bush's aggressiveness toward Iraq, Iran and Syria, combined with the sympathy of those called the "neo-conservatives" in the administration, complement rather than contradict the determination to demand that Israel, even before the 2004 elections, do its part for regional stability.
An active player in the game is the Israel Defense Forces military command, which understands that any random local incident could turn into a disastrous diplomatic crisis. The chief of staff, and the command and corps generals in Gaza and the West Bank are pressing their officers and combat troops to maintain maximum self-restraint. Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon is often in the field, briefing battalion commanders lest there be any doubt. There is suspicion as well as respect in the army's view of the situation. But if Sharon is hoping for Abu Mazen's collapse, he won't find his salvation in the IDF.