Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's bureau chief, Dov Weisglass, will this evening meet U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in the White House, and will try to explain Sharon's "disengagement plan" to her. But Weisglass can learn a lesson from her - it is doubtful if Sharon's plan will be carried out at a time when the United States has quietly completed its own disengagement from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
All the signs point to the Americans believing war between the Israelis and Palestinians to be a lost cause and a waste of time and political prestige. They know there is no chance of an agreement while Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat "rules" the Palestinian side, and in Israel, there the leadership of Sharon is weakening and who failed to keep his promises to evacuate the settlement outposts and to ease the lives of the Palestinians.
After the failure of the "Aqaba process" last June and the fall of former PA prime minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), the Americans decamped, and have now even stopped mentioning any solution for the conflict in political statements. President George Bush it entirely in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, not even repeating the line from last year that promised to promote "peace between a secure Israel and a democratic Palestine." He only included Jerusalem among the cities harmed by international terrorism. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who presented the 2004 goals to his staff, didn't even mention the road map, which was once a top priority.
Vice President Richard Cheney, perhaps the strongest and most influential person in the administration, explained last week: "As long as Yasser Arafat is the interlocutor on behalf of the Palestinians, as long as he is control, we think any serious progress is virtually impossible. The Israelis are never going to sign up, nor should they sign up to a peace, unless in fact they've got confidence that there is someone there on the Palestinian side prepared to keep those commitments."
He said this in reply to a question, after omitting the road map from a written speech. (Without intending to do so, Cheney guaranteed that Arafat will remain in his Muqata headquarters. The Likud government will not take a chance on removing him if leaving him in place frees it from negotiations.)
The United States has achieved its strategic goal, to prevent the "leakage" of the conflict to the neighboring countries. The Arab world is divided and conflicted and busy with the survival of its regimes rather than with concern for the Palestinians. Washington is concerned about preventing escalation, and continues to keep close tabs on Sharon, for fear that he will go wild and ignite the region.
Therefore they will press Weisglass this evening too, with questions about the outposts, the humanitarian situation in the territories, and the gates in the separation fence. The United States is monitoring the Israeli side in the main, because its influence on the Palestinians is negligible. All the pressures and the threats have not produced any progress in the investigation of the murder of the American security guards in a suicide attack on Sukkot in Gaza, and the territories are still off limits to diplomats from the United States.
Now America is deeply involved in the election campaign, during which they aren't taking any political risks, and are refraining from pressures on Israel. But this time there is a suspicion that this is not a time out until after the elections, but a more profound and significant disengagement. A sort of awareness that the world is moving on, and only the quarrel in Israel-Palestine, and in a few other places, has been left behind, like an incurable bleeding ulcer. As in the conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, all they can do is administer a painkiller and prevent a serious outbreak, but there is no chance of recovery.
The White House rejects claims of negligence, repeats the mantra "the president is involved," and promises the new order in the region will bring a new spirit to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well. Instead of wasting energy and hopes on a useless meeting between Sharon and Ahmed Queria, it's better to wait for the beginnings of democracy and freedom in the Arab world. The problem with this approach is that the facts on the ground aren't waiting for the ripening of the slow reform, and on the day when they return to the region, if they do, the Americans will discover that the starting point is much lower, and the effort required will be much greater.
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