sharon is saved from the threat of peace

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    By Aluf Benn
    Haaretz Sept 4

    It used to be said about Yitzhak Shamir that he
    wanted to wake up in the morning and see newspaper
    headlines saying, "The threat of peace has been
    lifted." All the signs now point to Ariel Sharon
    approaching the accomplishment that the former
    Likud premier dreamt of. The "window of
    opportunity" for renewing the peace process,
    opened after the war in Iraq, has been slammed
    shut. The efforts for a political deal have once
    again given way to the routine of managing the
    conflict, with Israel controlling the territories,
    and all the settlements in place.

    U.S. President George Bush has returned to the White House from his Texas vacation a much weakened leader, struggling to save his job. The lightning victory in Iraq has turned into the mud of occupation, regime
    chaos and mass terror attacks.

    The 2004 election campaign, which up until recently looked like a stroll to a second term, now looks like
    a battle for political survival. Internal polls taken by the Republicans show Bush could lose to the Democratic Party's candidate.

    While trying to avoid the fate of his father, a single-term president, Bush has to fight and win on two fronts. On the foreign policy front, he has to show achievements in Iraq and even
    Afghanistan, to justify his "global war on
    terror." Domestically, he has to keep his power
    base. Both political parties in the United
    States have already decided that their
    strategies will be to preserve their
    traditional voter base instead of trying to
    court floating voters.

    To win the elections, Bush needs the money,
    energy and organizational capabilities of his
    friends in the Christian right and the Jewish
    community, strongholds of support for Israel.
    And to win in Iraq he needs help from his Arab
    friends. Only the Arab states can grant
    legitimacy and economic encouragement to the
    puppet regime that is going up in Baghdad. The
    big winner apparently will be Syrian President
    Bashar Assad, who will win a "presidential
    pardon" for his support of Palestinian terror
    and Hezbollah, in exchange for helping
    rehabilitate trade with Iraq. The Israeli
    defense establishment's hopes that the American
    cannon in Iraq would turn on Syria, Hezbollah
    and Iran were overly optimistic.

    As far as the administration is concerned, the
    results of that accounting will be keeping a
    safe distance from the Israeli-Palestinian
    crisis and de facto shelving of the road map,
    even if they continue paying lip service to it.
    A weakened Bush will find it difficult to
    pressure the Jews and Arabs, whose support he
    needs. He will also be careful not to take the
    risk of a political effort that has so far
    given him only failure and disappointment.

    The caution is already blowing from the White
    House. The number of trips to the region by
    senior officials has dropped, and there are no
    signs of any urgency in their handling of the
    collapse of the hudna. Washington's ability to
    "press the Palestinians" to fight terror is
    pretty limited. After all the stories about
    "aggressive messages" and "threats to Dahlan,"
    the administration has been forced to change
    direction and try to save Abbas' collapsing
    government so at least he remains with the
    hollow title. It is difficult to believe that
    anyone expects "the terror infrastructures to
    be dismantled." The administration will make do
    with a request to the sides that they not
    exaggerate their escalations, to stay out of
    the way of the American efforts in Iraq.

    As far as Sharon is concerned, it is difficult
    to think of better news. The prime minister may
    have spoken of a Palestinian state and an end
    to the occupation, but his proposals to the
    Palestinians have been like an attempt to buy a
    Kfar Shmaryahu mansion for the price of a
    Amidar housing project apartment, and to demand
    the house be renovated before the negotiations
    even begin (and even that doesn't have a
    majority in the Likud central committee). In
    practice, Sharon has done everything possible
    to rebuff political dialogue, repeatedly
    toughening his conditions for opening the talks
    while deepening Israel's grip on the
    territories. Just like Shamir - but with one
    big difference. Sharon understood that he
    shouldn't clash with Washington, and a polite
    no is better than a determined one. That's how
    he managed to rebuff "the threat of peace" and
    even win praise from the Americans.
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