"We did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq, pay a bitter cost in casualties, defeat a brutal dictator and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins," said President Bush, explaining his Iraqi vision to soldiers in Baghdad last Thursday. There, it's begun. Now America cannot retreat because of terror. In a paraphrase of a famous slogan: we came to Iraq for the weapons of mass destruction, we stayed for the terror. It's a phrase we've done so much to foster here, and has become Bush's policy - not only in his attitude to Iraq, but also in his approach to our local conflict, Bush has adopted the Israeli lexicon.
In June 2002, after many birth pangs, Bush's road map came into the world. In those days, it was supposed to be a payoff to the Europeans for a policy that would back his plans for war in Iraq. He promised a smooth path to his vision: Saddam Hussein would fall, a democracy would arise in Iraq, Arab states would make peace with Israel, which would withdraw from the territories in exchange. A Palestinian state with temporary borders would be established by the end of 2003 and a final agreement signed by the end of 2005.
There was only an argument about a separation fence then, but no fence, per se. Nobody in Israel took the road map seriously, and not because it could not fulfill its role, but because Bush was not perceived as a serious enough president to impose his will on an extremist Israeli government.
A year has passed, and in July 2003, the Aqaba festivities took place. The road map began. A new Palestinian prime minister, named according to a pre-arranged prescription, embraced with Bush, Israel had 14 reservations and Bush regarded that as an agreement to the road map. It was difficult to hide the mutual winks. Bush was certain that, just as he toppled Saddam, he'd topple Arafat. But within a few weeks it was Mahmoud Abbas' political body on the ground.
The road map, as expected, was folded up, leaving behind four offspring: the Geneva initiative; the People's Voice petition; the meeting in London and the Labor Party's plan. The U.S. administration applauds them all, and they all more or less go through Washington to be shown off, and then everyone will say afterward how Bush loves them the most.
The road map, on the other hand, will rest in the UN mausoleum beside 242, 338, 194 and their ilk. Because Washington has a new policy once again: the separation fence policy. It's a new stage in Bush's micro-politics. After custom-designing a Palestinian prime minister, after getting rid of Arafat and condemning terror, there remains only one obstacle to peace: the fence - or the wall as he calls it. Because Bush understands the peace process needs to be handled with a screwdriver and tweezers, nuts and bolts, and not its frame and infrastructure. And thus, if only the matter of the fence can be resolved, everything will work out.
Israel should not build a fence that obstructs the future establishment of a Palestinian state, he said in London last week. Straight to the point, much harsher than anything Clinton ever said. But he has not ordered the fence dismantled. Instead he takes a virtual fine for it - the interest on borrowing about $300 million without American guarantees backing the loan.
That's the superpower's measly contribution to the most important political process in the Middle East. Who remembers the last time any senior official from the administration visited here since Aqaba? When was the Israeli government ordered to report on the implementation of its commitments in the road map? After all it wasn't a program put together by just some fellow, but the president of the United States, who promised to take a personal interest in its progress. Yes, he also asked European countries to pressure Arafat, who is blocking the process.
Arafat and the fence, the two giants facing down Bush. No wonder the settlers are bursting into laughter once again. Bush has given them another defensive wall. First let's see him take down the wall, they're saying, and then the illegal outposts - the first thing Israel was supposed to do, with everything established since March 2001 dubbed illegal - and then the settlements, and before everything else, there are the American elections. May the planes from Geneva, London and Madrid come home safely.
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