The Only Vote That Counts Is George Bush's

With the Israeli election results more or less known in advance, the most important vote is in the hands of the president of the United States.

Imagine that when the Labor Central Committee meets to debate joining the unity government, the headlines of that day's papers would say: "Sharon tells Quartet he supports the road map, including a Palestinian state and a settlement freeze." How many party members will raise their hands for Amram Mitzna against guidelines that wouldn't embarrass Meretz in a coalition agreement? With an extremist right-wing government looming in the background, who will be bothered with "petty details," like the nature of that Palestinian state or the preconditions for the settlement freeze?

It seems Sharon has no competitors in the political world capable of portraying failure as success, a criminal as a victim, and opposition as acceptance. He learned that "yes, but" is much more effective than "no, but," since in any case the result is the same: perpetuating the status quo to enable the establishment of more "outposts." There's no better proof of this than the document prepared last month with Sharon's reservations about the last version of the "road map," slated for President Bush's desk.

No wonder Sharon keeps the document deep inside the vault. In effect, it is the trap he is laying for the "peace camp." The list of reservations turns the "road map" into another meaningless piece of paper, destined for the same ending Sharon prepared for the Mitchell recommendations and the Tenet working plan. Officials who had a chance to get a look at the reservations discovered that it proposes the territorial contiguity the "map" promises the Palestinians, be integrated into something called "transportation contiguity." Israel will allow the residents of Bethlehem to go to Hebron on bridges and tunnels, while the Jews continue to build settlements on the ground.

And speaking of the settlements - Sharon's document says the freeze will wait until a "general cease-fire." To understand that condition, one has to turn to Sharon's recent "Herzliya speech," in which Sharon presented a plan that he prepared, he said, with Bush (but was basically Sharon's interpretation of the "road map"). The prime minister emphasized that no Israeli soldier would leave the territories until "all the organizations subservient to Arafat" are dismantled and all the troops disarmed. And that only happens after democratic elections (only for the Palestinian Legislative Council) in a vote with predetermined results: replacement of the current Palestinian leadership.

It is difficult to find a single significant article in the "road map" that Sharon's reservations don't in essence ask to turn upside down: the prime minister has reservations about mention of basic concepts like the "Saudi Arabian plan" and "end of the occupation." He objects to the demand to implement the Bertini report, which offers some practical steps to relieve the humanitarian disaster in the territories, and demands the article that mentions reopening Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem be erased from the "road map." He demands reducing the supervisory authority of the Quartet, and above all, to eliminate any detail in the "road map" that does not precisely match Bush's speech of June 24, 2002.

To avoid revealing to the Israeli public the huge gap between him and the Quartet, Sharon asked for and received from Bush a postponement until after the elections. To avoiding exposing what's hiding behind his "adoption, in principle" of the road map and turning it into the guidelines of the unity government, Sharon sent Bush two more requests: to postpone presentation of the official "map" until after the new government is formed, and for Bush to force the other Quartet members to reopen the map for negotiations.

With the Israeli election results more or less known in advance, the most important vote is in the hands of the president of the United States. Will he lend a hand to foiling yet one more initiative that has won Palestinian acceptance and the blessings of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Will domestic political concerns, which have nothing to do with the national interests of the U.S., guide him to collaborate in another attempt by Sharon to bury yet another peace initiative under cover of a new version of counterfeit unity?