Why Bush likes tall tales
The day is not far off when Abu Mazen and his government will fall. It's only a matter of time. Then, Ariel Sharon will get Yasser Arafat back, and he will be relieved to be rid of Abu Mazen's moderation. Sharon always had huge difficulties speaking to moderate Palestinians, while he swims like a fish in a sea of Palestinian extremism. There's a problem with moderates. You have to encourage and strengthen them, offer them real proposals and make a real start on the famous "painful concessions." Sharon doesn't have any such intentions. All he wanted to do is get home from Washington in one piece.
Sharon's behavior is not surprising to anyone who has known him for many years. The surprise is President Bush, who has evinced a strange passion for tall tales. It is completely unclear why the American president has decided to consume overflowing portions of complete lies served up to him by Ariel Sharon. Therefore, when Abu Mazen falls, and his government with him, the blame will fall on Sharon, but mainly on Bush, who maintains the pretension of an "honest broker."
Does Bush know that Sharon is lying to him, or does he still believe him? Does Bush pretend to believe because of political convenience and domestic considerations?
It's a mystery and will remain a mystery that this particular president, who presents himself as one who you don't "get smart with," is prepared, for some reason, for the tail, Sharon, to wag him.
I began to be very worried when I saw that a very important article in the road map had amazingly disappeared as if it had never existed. It is that section that emphasizes Israel's obligation, as early as the first stage of the implementation of the road map, to "totally freeze" settlement activity, "including natural growth."
How this article dissipated and why is entirely unclear. Perhaps Bush decided that the task was too great for him and he gave up on this decisive point. It is of course clear to everyone that without a settlement freeze there can be no real progress in the peace process.
After that, Sharon told Bush that he was "evacuating outposts." The Americans don't need the private detective services of Peace Now to tell them that not one single outpost has been evacuated. The aerial photography of the greatest power in the world reveals that all the illegal outposts are still standing. Most of them were not populated to begin with, so there was nothing to evacuate. Others moved 100-200 meters from their original location. And still others were reestablishing themselves even while they were being evacuated. Altogether, more new outposts have been set up over the past few weeks than "old" ones evacuated. They have been fruitful and have spread forth.
After that, Sharon told Bush that he was "releasing prisoners." He simply didn't tell the U.S. president that most of the soon-to-be released prisoners were close to completing their jail terms anyway. Not only does this release not strengthen Abu Mazen and his government, it actually weakens them, because it shows them up to be an empty vessel. Among this present group of prisoners is not a single one with symbolic value from the point of view of Abu Mazen's government, which is fighting for its life.
Next, Sharon told Bush about "concessions" to the Palestinians, including the removal of roadblocks. So far, Sharon reported, 10 roadblocks had been removed (and not among the most onerous). Bush forgot to ask, or didn't want to ask, "Ten out of how many?" If he had, he would discover that more than 100 roadblocks are still standing and continuing to make the lives of the Palestinians miserable.
On Monday, in a moment of rare frankness, our prime minister admitted that we "had not given anything to the Palestinians." But Bush is now on vacation in Texas, and it's not likely that he heard this statement; moreover, it's doubtful that it really interested him.
When Abu Mazen's government falls, and the bloodshed resumes, God forbid, Bush will have to answer some difficult questions, to go along with the difficult questions he already has to answer with regard to Iraq. President Bush is allowed, of course, to toy with his own political fate. But he may on no account toy with ours.