The Jews had light and joy the night before last: President Bush announced his intention to implement the "road map" - and the city of Jerusalem was not bewildered nor confused. On the contrary, its official spokespeople were filled with felicity: Bush doesn't mean it, Bush is making convenient conditions for Israel, the time for carrying out his plan will come only after the Palestinian Authority assumes control over the terrorist organizations. In short, in the spirit of the Scroll of Esther (Megilla): on the day that the Jews' enemies thought to rule them, the opposite occurred - the Jews ruled their foes.
The official responses reflect the mood of at least some cabinet members. Ministers like Effi Eitam and Avigdor Lieberman believe that Abu Mazen's appointment as prime minister of the Palestinian Authority changes nothing in the state of the confrontation. From their point of view, the American president's plea-cum-warning to Arafat - to give Abu Mazen full powers so that he can lead the Palestinians to talks with Israel - is nothing but lip service.
They do not believe Bush is sincere in his intention to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian entanglement and totally disbelieve Abu Mazen's desire and ability to abandon violence. In their eyes, the only effective way to quash Palestinian terror is by Israeli military force, and this is the guiding principle underlying their decisions in the new security cabinet.
This approach reflects the infuriating assumption that the Israeli public has adapted to the quota of bereavement and suffering tolled by the confrontation and has crossed a threshold.
According to this concept, Israeli residents are going on with their daily routines and regard the terrorist attacks and the IDF's retaliations as mere background noises. After two-and-a-half years of lethal intifada, people no longer ask themselves "until when" but have reconciled themselves to the blood tax demanded by the dispute.
Members of this school apply their principal diagnosis to their current situation evaluations: in their opinion, the American administration will not deal with the dispute here in the near future. It is concentrated entirely on the assault on Iraq and its implications. If the victory over Saddam Hussein is crushing and quick, it will have a positive effect (from the Israeli perspective) on the status of other Arab rulers, mainly Arafat. If this happens, the United States will have proved that terrorism can be vanquished, and Israeli will be justified in demanding a free hand to act against the Palestinian terrorism. If defeating the Iraqi ruler comes slowly, all the more reason for President Bush not to take time to dry up the Israeli-Palestinian swamp.
In any case, they think, the approaching U.S. presidential elections protect Israel from pressure on Bush's part, because of his dependence on the Jewish vote.
There is no telling to what extent Ariel Sharon shares this approach. He has declared his acceptance in principle of the road map, but demanded making more than 100 changes in it. He set up a coalition, two of whose partners left themselves an escape hatch for use the moment the Bush plan appears on the agenda and leads to a Palestinian state.
Thus Sharon rendered his government's existence dependent on the veto power of the National Union and National Religious parties. These decisions seem to indicate his intention to undermine the road map.
On the other hand, Sharon is totally dependent on Bush's goodwill. His international status and his ability to function as prime minister inside Israel (especially because of his need of the American financial aid), are entirely conditional on the American president's satisfaction with Sharon's positions and performance.
Bush's declaration on Friday indeed resembles a pirouette at a diplomatic costume ball, but the assumption of the Sharon government that this exempts it from responsibility to bring about a fundamental change in the confrontation, in the spirit of road map, is a fool's consolation. The acute distress in which both nations are mired is screaming out for a solution, and relying on Purim masquerades is escaping from reality.
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