For the opening of the new American operation meant to bring democracy to the Arab world, the Arabs are invited to learn how the West's greatest democracy gets involved in the only democracy in the Middle East. The upcoming elections in Israel are an opportunity for Jordan and Saudi Arabia to learn a lesson in the American game that Washington wants to export to them. Before the Arabs buy the product, they better find out if the United States makes do only with helping dictators who serve Washington's interests. The Israeli case proves that democracy does not make democratic regimes immune to brutal intervention by American politicians in their election campaigns.
This is not the first time that the United States has enlisted its political, economic and even strategic interests to influence an Israeli election. Most previous leaders did not hide their preference for moderate parties and candidates. The ambition to find a solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict, and thus contribute to stability in the Middle East, marked the intersection of the interests of both sides. But this Friday, Ariel Sharon will go down in history as the first right-wing candidate carried into government on the shoulders of an American president.
If there is no last minute change, U.S. President George W. Bush will cast a veto Friday against a proposal by the leaders of the European Union, the UN and Russia to publish the Quartet's "road map." It should be noted in this context that the U.S. State Department's David Satterfield was a key figure in drawing the map. As of now, Bush is even rejecting a compromise proposal that would have the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority respond only to the first, modest part of the Quartet plan. It's not the cease-fire clause, which is at the heart of the first part of the plan, to which the president objects, but another clause also at the heart of the first stage - the settlement freeze.
It's difficult to assess which interests and people are guiding Bush in his escape from any hint of a dispute between him and Sharon. Is it his desire to win the support of Jewish officials and tycoons, who have mostly lined up on Sharon's side? Is it because he regards the Israeli right wing in general, but particularly Sharon, as a suitable partner for his war on terror and Saddam Hussein? Or maybe he's attentive to the preaching of the neo-conservatives, both Jewish and Christian, who claim the Oslo agreements were a mistake and the Arabs will never be happy until they manage to throw the Jews into the sea?
One of those neo-conservatives, Elliot Abrams, who was recently given the Israeli-Arab conflict portfolio in the National Security Council, proposed two years ago to the Jewish community, in an article in Beliefnet, to cease referring to the "peace process," which he put in quotation marks, and said that "the end of American pressure on Israel must cease." In an article he published shortly after the last elections, he compared Sharon to Winston Churchill.
Whatever his motives, the goodies Bush is showering on Sharon, particularly his refusal to present the road map and his agreement to postpone, at Sharon's request, publication of the map until after the elections, are nothing more than a contribution to defrauding the Israeli voter. It raises suspicions that Bush is cooperating with the effort to hide the peace plan that will be put on the table the day after the elections. Instead, he allowed Sharon, speaking at the Herzliya conference, to get away with presenting a series of "understandings" the prime minister said he had reached with the president, without any mention of "road map" or "settlement freeze."
Who needs Amran Mitzna with his proposals to renew negotiations and dismantle "legal" settlements when Sharon is conducting negotiations with the U.S. president about increasing aid, and the White House is not disturbed by the perpetuation of "illegal settlements." Although Mitzna's positions are much closer to official U.S. policy regarding the settlements, it would be too much to expect the American president find an opportunity to encourage the Israeli peace camp. But it is not too much to demand that Israel's best friend cease trying to influence what is left of the only democracy in the region.
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