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American President George W. Bush is certainly deeply grateful to the British prime minister, Tony Blair, if he agreed to hold the summit meeting on the Iraqi war in Northern Ireland of all places. Even during ordinary times, the U.S. president didn't have the time or interest to deal with the internal issues of the intercommunal conflict in Northern Ireland, and this is even truer now when he is mired in the Iraqi problem. But Blair, his fluent and charismatic partner - who compensated for the inarticulateness and awkwardness of the cowboy from Texas - needed a gesture to make it easier for him to deal with his failure to advance the process of reconciliation in Northern Ireland, which has been stuck for over half a year. And out of a political need - or because of a comparative analysis - Blair is linking the conflict in Northern Ireland with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so that at the Belfast summit, attention also had to be paid to the latest fashionable solution to the conflict in the Holy Land - the "road map."

In reality, the attention devoted to it was even less than symbolic. One paragraph, covering the issue of implementation of the road map, included a high-flown sentence about "peace in the Middle East requires overcoming deep divisions of history and religion, yet is possible; and as proof, it is happening in Northern Ireland," where "one generation makes a choice to break the habits of hatred and retribution." Happy is he who believes, and happy is he who sees the Belfast summit as an important step on the road to reconciliation in Northern Ireland and in Israel/Palestine, since it contained no practical component, but was all rhetoric.

But even the symbolic mention demonstrated the difference between how the conflict is regarded in the two places: Whereas in Northern Ireland they are longing for American intervention and for presidential input that will adopt the British and Irish initiative for solving the crisis, in Israel they are afraid of an American initiative, and only a minority, whose positions are seen almost as treasonous, aspires to an internationalization of the conflict.

The boring, recycled debate that erupted on the issue of the "road map and its dangers" - a debate whose chance of success is known in advance - serves the interests of the United States, because it wants to placate Blair, who still believes that the Arab countries feel the need to pressure Israel in order to "balance" the aggression in Iraq, and that the road map will narrow the rift with the European Union. The more artificially created noise there is, the more the careless, contradictory and vague document is portrayed as some brave and practical plan of action that must be challenged, when everyone knows that there is no chance, or even any intention, of implementing it. A powerful coalition composed of a right-wing government in Israel, a Jewish lobby in the United States, the decisive influence of fundamentalist Christians, and neoconservative administration officials will make sure that the fate of the road map will be like that of the Mitchell, Tenet and Zinni plans - to mention just a few American plans that were introduced with a great deal of sound and fury and quickly sank into oblivion.

According to the reports, the Belfast meeting served as "a step designed to moderate the hawkish image of the United States and Britain, by an expression of support for the peace process." But one can attribute a different symbolism to this meeting. The creation of a linkage between the war in Iraq and the conflict in Northern Ireland and in Israel/Palestine emphasizes the true test of the imperial pretension. This is not tested by a military victory, since military power is a given without which there is no basis for the pretension, but by the ability to enforce stability and to manage conflicts with a minimum of violence. The Americans, in starting the Iraqi war, knew that changing the regime would require their "direct rule" - just like the kind of rule that the British imposed on Northern Ireland - until the locals are able to conduct their affairs by themselves.

That is a fateful decision, since retreating from it without fulfillment of the minimal conditions of stability will destroy the imperial pretension, regional stability and even the new world order, which the war in Iraq was meant to establish. It is possible that on the morning after the Iraqi war it will turn out that the United States and Britain have created another insoluble intercommunal conflict between Kurds, Sunnis and Shi'ites, similar to the conflict between Catholics and Protestants, Jews and Palestinians; and that in Iraq - as in Northern Ireland and in Israel/Palestine - there is a need for direct and long-standing intervention by an external factor with the power of enforcement.

It is not clear whether President Bush is aware of the symbolism inherent in combining Iraq, Ireland and the Holy Land into one package; after all, he only wanted to help his friend Tony Blair. But he embarked on an adventure from which there is no return: Either he will justify his imperial pretension and will enforce his authority, as expected of him, or he will depart and leave behind him scorched earth and rivers of blood. The coalition of refusal that aspires to continue to wallow in blood and violence will have no choice: Pax Americana is no longer an option, it is a necessity.