In the weeks leading up to the war in Iraq, the earth-shattering news that Yasser Arafat does not have a television set in his Ramallah headquarters spread through the corridors of power in Israel. This piece of information came to prove, in keeping with the reasoning of the decision-makers in Jerusalem, just how cut off from reality the head of the Palestinian Authority is.
They wanted to say that under Arafat's nose, there brews a rebellion, the power and significance of which he is completely unaware: He doesn't understand that his time is up, that the spirit of the Palestinian public has had enough of the armed conflict with Israel and that it is high time that the chairman steps down.
In the same breath, those in the know in the political echelon claimed that the American "road map" was merely a draft, a recipe for changes. These officials were convinced that Israel had plenty of maneuvering room to influence the political outline being designed by the United States for the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The prevailing assessment was that the prime minister and his emissaries would be afforded ample opportunity to persuade the administration in Washington to make significant amendments to the road map, in the spirit of the Israeli positions, and that in any event, the document was not a practical plan of action.
This conclusion was based on the assumption that the White House would not have time to dry out the Israeli-Palestinian swamp before completing the mission it had taken upon itself vis-a-vis Iraq, and that anyway, Israel could rely on the strong lobby in the United States to prevent President Bush (if indeed he were to strive to do so) from twisting Ariel Sharon's arm.
To no small degree, these forecasts were realized: Sharon's cooperation with the Quartet, members of the Palestinian leadership and the leaderships of Egypt, Jordan, Britain and the United States gave rise to a process that led to the election of Abu Mazen as PA prime minister - thereby fulfilling the first, basic condition for a turnaround in the conflict.
Arafat will indeed try to neutralize the influence of this development, but the chances of him doing so are very slim: In keeping with the dictates of the international community (represented by the Quartet), in the coming weeks, Arafat will have to accept Mohammed Dahlan's appointment as head of the PA's security affairs, and reapprove the candidacy of Salam Fayyad as the PA's finance minister.
In the event that these moves go ahead, they will constitute an important step on the way to implementing the road map.
Israel conditioned its willingness to accept the American outline on the implementation of reforms in the PA that would lead, first and foremost, to a cessation of the terror. The establishment of the PA government under Abu Mazen appears to be the realization of an important stage in Israel's conditions.
The war in Iraq provides an accelerated impetus for pushing the process forward - due both to the American need to demonstrate a non-biased attitude when it comes to dealing with international crises in which Arabs are involved, and to the supposed deterrent influence of the U.S. administration's resolve regarding Saddam Hussein on other Arab leaders. On this point, the Israeli assessments could be wrong.
On Friday, at a meeting of EU heads of state in Brussels, British Prime Minister Tony Blair saw fit to mention Britain and America's intention to move swiftly to establish a Palestinian state that will be able to exist alongside a secure state of Israel. And yesterday, EU special envoy Miguel Moratinos announced that the road map would be submitted to the sides for discussion of its implementation within 10 days.
Sources in the Prime Minister's Bureau hurried to voice doubt about the credibility of the announcement and predict that Israel would be given a chance to influence the formulation of the American plan prior to its presentation for implementation.
Within a week or two, we will learn if the political echelon in Jerusalem, despite being tuned in to all the news channels on the television, is reading the international reality as it stands, or is erring due to wishful thinking.
According to long-standing Israel Defense Forces assessments, the dramatic U.S. move in Iraq will prompt President Bush to dedicate his efforts to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The cabinet ministers, on the other hand, are exhibiting a tendency to disregard this possibility. Reality is about to slap them in the face - and if not the reality in the international arena, then the escalating reality in the field.
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